Changes to national standards for Magnuson-Stevens are receiving accolades from the recreational fishing industry.
NOAA Fisheries last week filed in the Federal Register its final rule to revise the guidelines for National Standards (NS) 1, 3, and 7 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). MSA contains 10 national standards which guide the contents and objectives of federal fishery management plans.
Groups including the Recreational Fishing Alliance and American Sportfishing Association are applauding the revision.
“We commend NOAA Fisheries for making meaningful improvements to the National Standard guidelines, which should improve recreational fishing opportunities for federally managed marine fisheries while ensuring the nation is still achieving our strong fisheries conservation standards,” said Mike Leonard, ASA’s Conservation director. “Many of the proposed changes address issues identified through the engagement that NOAA Fisheries has made with the recreational fishing community in recent years, and more specifically the recommendations of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, more commonly known as the Morris-Deal Commission.”
The revisions include several changes sought by the industry:
- Allowing changes to catch limits to be gradually phased in over up to three years, as long as overfishing is prevented.
- Increasing latitude, based on the biology of the fish stock, in setting timelines for rebuilding programs.
- Providing flexibility for better managing data-limited stocks while adhering to conservation requirements.
- Allowing for greater stability in fishing regulations through guidance on considering multiple years when determining overfishing status.
"RFA believes that the revisions put forward by NOAA Fisheries in the final rule are a step in the right direction and will help restore some balance to the management of our federal fisheries under MSA," said Jim Donofrio, RFA executive director. "The intent of Congress was to treat the 10 national standards equally in order to achieve a balance between conservation and needs of our fishing communities. Yet, selective execution of certain national standards over the past decade has resulted in a loss of opportunity and economic output in many of our most important recreational fisheries."
The rulemaking revisions are progress, but point to the importance of legislative changes to address the issues with Magnuson-Stevens, Donofrio said.
"While these revisions may increase the probability that the recreational sector will realize some improvements to such fisheries as red snapper, summer flounder, and black sea bass, they only go so far due to the limitations of Magnuson," he said. "These revisions provide the much needed triage as our industry continues to collectively fight for necessary amendments to MSA."
Leonard echoed that sentiment.
“While these revisions represent progress, they do not preclude the need for modifications to MSA to more fully address challenges with federal fisheries management, like providing limited exemptions for annual catch limits, allowing use of alternative management approaches in recreational fisheries and establishing a process for examining allocations," he said. "We continue to call on Congress to reauthorize MSA and fix these persisting challenges in federal fisheries management.”