H.R. 2304: A Bill that Would Weaken Fisheries Science and Jeopardize Efforts to Prevent Overfishing
Congress should reject H.R. 2304 because it would undermine the progress we've made preventing overfishing for some of America's most valuable and vulnerable ocean fish populations.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the federal law that governs management of our nation's ocean fish, requires managers to set science-based annual catch limits (ACLs) to ensure sustainable fishing for all U.S. ocean fish populations by the end of 2011. Now, just as we are nearing the finish line, the misnamed "Fishery Science Improvement Act" would jeopardize this goal by undermining the ACL requirement in three ways:
- Exempting managers from setting science-based catch limits for fish populations that have not been assessed in the past five years. This exemption could risk overfishing on at least 58 of our most valuable commercial and recreational fish. It would also prevent managers from using scientifically valid methods for establishing catch limits based on existing and readily available information such as the biology of the species and recent commercial and recreational catch data.
- Creating a new loophole that could allow the Secretary of Commerce to exempt scores of fish species from the requirement to establish science-based catch limits, including those that are undergoing overfishing. H.R. 2304 would establish a new, ill-defined category of fish populations known as "ecosystem stocks" that are exempt from catch limits.
- Extending the deadline to set catch limits that prevent overfishing to 2014, putting vulnerable fish populations at risk. We know from experience that "kicking the can down the road" and risking overfishing can have disastrous consequences for our nation's fish populations and fishing communities.
Thanks to the ACL requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, managers have steadily improved data collection and analysis for species that have historically lacked assessments because they are not commercially valuable or are small fisheries. H.R. 2304 would undermine this progress by taking away the incentive for managers to collect information on these fish populations. Instead, managers are more likely to allocate their scarce research and assessment funds to those species where they are legally required to set science-based annual catch limits.
Congress took decisive bipartisan action in 2006 to end decades of overfishing and restore our nation's valuable fish populations by strengthening the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. H.R. 2304 undermines science-based management and puts vulnerable fish populations at risk just as we are nearing the the finish line of ending and preventing overfishing for all federally-managed fish populations. Congress should reject this short-sighted bill and instead help improve fisheries science by investing in fisheries data collection and monitoring programs.
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), "2011 Status of Fisheries: First Quarter Update," Mar. 31, 2011, www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/statusoffisheries/SOSmain.htm; NMFS, Species Information System Public Portal.
https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/sisPortal/sisPortalMain.jsp., accessed June 25, 2011; and personal communication with NMFS personnel.