The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), under the Department of Commerce, is charged with managing our nation’s federal saltwater fisheries. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), first enacted in 1976, is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in United States federal waters. Most notably, the MSA aided in the development of the domestic fishing industry by phasing out foreign fishing. To manage fisheries and promote conservation, the act created eight regional fishery management councils. The 1996 amendments to MSA focused on rebuilding overfished fisheries, protecting essential fish habitat, and reducing bycatch. The act was reauthorized in 2006 and included provisions to end overfishing by 2010 and 2011.
Despite significant efforts to improve federal marine fisheries management there are significant gaps in fisheries data and science that will likely result in large-scale fishery closures and a way to address the 2010 and 2011 deadlines. The Fishery Conservation Transition Act (FCTA) was introduced in the 111th Congress to provide NOAA Fisheries with the time and resources to end overfishing without imposing unnecessary fishery closures.
In the 2006 MSA reauthorization, important amendments were included to drive NOAA Fisheries to more effective marine fisheries management and stock rebuilding.
While the intentions behind MSA’s 2006 reauthorization were aimed at improving marine fisheries conservation, NOAA Fisheries was not prepared for a law that mandates that the nation’s marine resources be managed to end overfishing by 2010 and 2011. Federal marine fisheries managers currently do not have the time, resources and more specific direction necessary to address the chronic deficiencies in data collection and science. These deficiencies were glaring in the South Atlantic where the lack of proper data exacerbated problems in the red snapper fishery and almost resulted in a closure of all bottom fishing in a 5,000-square-mile area. On December 3, NOAA Fisheries announced its decision to delay implementation of the ban on bottom-fishing until June to allow time to consider the results of a new scientific assessment of red snapper.
The averted bottom fishing closure in the South Atlantic is only one example of what could become a looming fisheries management “train wreck.” Black sea bass, summer flounder, South Atlantic and Gulf Grouper, amberjack and many other fisheries will be subject to severe, and unnecessary, limitations over the next year. The adverse impact on anglers will only be compounded by NOAA Fisheries’ inadequate stock assessment capabilities and recreational fisheries data collection system.
The inattention by NOAA Fisheries to recreational fishing over time, combined with new mandates included in the MSA, has led to major problems in need of major immediate action. The FCTA was introduced in the 111th Congress to provide managers with the time to improve recreational fishery management and data gathering, meet the conservation and management priorities of MSA, and avoid “crisis management” by closure.
Though the FCTA was not passed during the 111th Congress, this effort will be continued in the current Congress until either the legislation passes or administrative actions are achieved. The American Sportfishing Association will continue working to pass legislation that ensures a future for our marine resources and a future for recreational angling.