Bill seeks to tie catch limits to scientific data

WASHINGTON – A bill introduced by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) seeks to ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Fisheries Service is required to set catch limits based on scientific data.

The bi-partisan legislation, known as the Fishery Science Improvement Act, is endorsed by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus as well as a coalition of conservation, sportfishing and marine industry groups. Original co-sponsors of H.R. 2304 include Reps. Mike Ross (D-AR); Jeff Miller (R-FL); Heath Shuler (D-NC); Bob Latta (R-OH); Jo Bonner (R-AL.); Dan Boren (D-OK); Charles Boustany (R-LA); Bill Cassidy (R-LA); Jeff Duncan (R-SC); John Fleming (R-LA); Frank Guinta (R-NH); Andy Harris (R-MD); Martin Heinrich (D-NM); Duncan Hunter (R-CA); Jeff Landry (R-LA); Scott Rigell (R-VA); and Steve Southerland (R-FL).

“We applaud the vision and leadership of Mr. Wittman and the other FSIA co-sponsors,” Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation President Jeff Crane said in a release. “The sportfishing community is facing an unacceptable situation in which arbitrary deadlines are being allowed to trump the essential need for science-based management of our marine resources. We are grateful to Mr. Wittman and his colleagues for identifying the problem we have in federal saltwater fisheries and taking action on this issue.”

As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires Regional Fishery Management Councils to put in place annual catch limits and accountability measures for every fishery by Dece. 31, 2011.

Supporters say that the Fishery Science Improvement Act offers three key components that are intended to steer NOAA Fisheries back to the true intention of the 2006 MSA reauthorization:

— If the agency has not done a stock assessment on a particular stock in the last five years, and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, an annual catch limit on that stock is not required.

— FSIA gives NOAA Fisheries three years to work with the regional councils to figure out how to implement science-based measures that are appropriate for each region and its fisheries.

— To avoid removing fish species from management entirely due to lack of data, NOAA Fisheries is currently designating a limited number of such stocks as “ecosystem components,” allowing the continued federal management of the stock without the requirement to implement an annual catch limit or accountability measure. FSIA codifies the agency’s designation and expands the universe of stocks protected in this category.

“The federal government currently has approximately 528 fish stocks or complexes of stocks under management and only 110 of those stocks are considered ‘adequately assessed.’ If the agency does not have the data to even guesstimate an annual catch limit for some species, there is currently an option for the agency to simply remove those stocks from all management protections, which is not a desirable result,” supporters of FSIA said in a release. “H.R. 2304 provides a timely path for NOAA Fisheries to manage all of America’s marine fish stocks based on sound scientific data.”

The bill has the support of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, the American Sportfishing Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the International Game Fish Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and The Billfish Foundation.

“This bill is simple and targeted,” Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said in a statement. “As sportsmen, we have a specific problem with how NOAA Fisheries is being forced to implement the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and it has become apparent that we need Congress to address it. Without Congressional action, arbitrary decisions affecting millions of anglers and thousands of businesses will continue to be made.”

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