Limiting Public Data on Our Nation's Fisheries

West Coast Groundfish Observer ProgramThis week marks the annual event known as Sunshine Week, when media outlets and organizations around the country focus in on the critical importance of the public's right to understand and participate in our government. This issue hits close to home as Pew works to restore America's ocean ecosystems and the fish that depend on them. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), we enjoy a management process where local input is highly valued, fisheries management meetings are open to all, and public testimony is critical to the decision-making process. But that tradition of openness is under threat. A proposed data confidentiality rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) could severely restrict public access to the information that should be guiding the sustainable management of our nation's fisheries.

U.S. ocean fish populations are a natural resource that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in the fishing and seafood industries, and play an essential role in the health of ocean ecosystems. Every year, millions of taxpayer dollars are invested in fisheries management, including data collection by professional observers on fishing vessels. The information these observers collect—including what fish are being caught, and how it's affecting our oceans—is essential for citizens to understand the impacts of fishing on our public trust resources, and to meaningfully participate in fishery management to help ensure the effective conservation of ocean fish, wildlife, and ecosystems.

The information observers collect is essential for citizens to understand the impacts of fishing on our public trust resources.Lee Crockett, director, U.S. fisheries campaigns

 NOAA has proposed a fisheries data confidentiality rule that would significantly restrict the public's access to fisheries data, including publicly-funded observer programs. The proposal would undermine the extensive public participation envisioned in the MSA, and could erode transparency and openness in our government.

This proposed rule is far from popular among those keeping an eye on our fisheries—the vast majority of public comments on the proposal called on NOAA to reconsider the rulemaking, and there was near unanimous agreement among non-governmental organizations that we need more openness and less restrictions on access to fisheries data.

NOAA Fisheries should withdraw this flawed proposal and replace it with one that will increase transparency, participation, and collaboration so that researchers, scientists, and members of the public can effectively exercise their right to understand and contribute to the successful management of our nation's valuable fisheries. If we could shed a little more sunshine on what's happening in our oceans, then our nation's fish, ocean ecosystems, and fishermen who depend upon them, could move together toward a brighter, more sustainable future.

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