Feds Flunk First Test of New Fish Law

Feds Flunk First Test of New Fish Law

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), ignoring scientific advice and a mandate from Congress and President Bush to end overfishing, has recommended a quota of 15.77 million pounds for the 2008 summer flounder fishing season, endangering the recovery of this depleted population.  Because the agency proposed an annual catch limit that exceeded scientists' recommendations, the federal government failed its first true test for complying with new conservation measures in the recently revised Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation's primary federal fisheries law.

For the past 20 years, summer flounder has been subject to overfishing.  But, instead of conserving this species, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) has allowed overfishing to continue and has been slow to take meaningful action to rebuild it.  The MAFMC's scientific advisors recommended that NMFS establish a 2008 summer flounder quota between 11.64 and 12.90 million pounds.  The council ignored its own scientists and instead recommended that NMFS set a 2008 quota of 15.77 million pounds.

“These demands for a higher quota are understandable from a short-term economic perspective, but they'll undermine the long-term health of summer flounder,” said Lee Crockett, who directs the Federal Fisheries Policy Reform Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts' Environment Group. “This is a classic case of short-term economics beating out sound science.”

The MAFMC and the NMFS are not the only groups seeking a higher catch limit.  New Jersey anglers, led by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), wanted to increase the 2008 summer flounder fishing quota.  They have been lobbying Congress and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) specifically, to amend the 10-year rebuilding requirement in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to create some “flexibility” in the law.  While not endorsing additional flexibility, Congressman Pallone has advocated increasing the quota to 17.5 million pounds.  Additionally, U.S. Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) last week introduced the “Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2007” to weaken the Magnuson-Stevens Act's rebuilding requirements.

“With the updated Magnuson-Stevens Act, Congress and the Bush administration made a commitment across the board to end overfishing,” said Joshua Reichert, managing director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Environment Group.  “Quite simply, the agency responsible for following through on this commitment has failed to the ultimate detriment of fish, fishermen and the public.”

NMFS will accept public comments through December 3, 2007.  To submit an official comment, go to http://www.regulations.gov.  After all the comments have been collected and evaluated, NMFS will publish its final rule in December, and it will take effect on January 1, 2008.

Editor's Note:  
To view NMFS' press release about the 2008 summer flounder quota, visit: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/mediacenter/docs/proposed_summer_flounder_catch_limits_FINAL.pdf

To view a copy of H.R. 4087, the “Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2007,” visit: http://thomas.loc.gov/

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems.  Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. The Pew Environment Group, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts, exists to meet one of the seminal challenges of our time—saving the natural environment and the rich array of life it supports.