May 7, 2013
I want to thank Dr. McIsaac, the Regional Fishery Management Councils – in particular, the Pacific Council - and NOAA for hosting this conference. Pulling together a conference involving this many people who have an interest in fisheries management cannot be an easy task.
I would like to welcome all of you here to Washington, D.C. I know this is a commitment of time and energy, but I appreciate your willingness to participate and I look forward to reviewing the recommendations.
The title of this conference is “Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries” - but it could just as easily be called Managing the Nation’s Fishermen. As you’ve heard me say before, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is as much about managing fishermen, as it is about managing fish.
Managing fish - and fishermen - is a challenge. It requires balancing act in a number of areas: between a sustainable harvest level and the maximum economic value for the fisheries; between recreational and commercial users of the same resource; between different gear types in the same fisheries; and between the interests of different states. In addition, not only are the fisheries different, but the challenges are different in each region of the country. Because of these differences, a one-size-fits-all management structure is not the most efficient structure.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the framework for sustainable fisheries management that allows for regional solutions to address regional challenges. The Act works, it is absolutely necessary to maintain this authority that allows regions to find unique solutions to their problems. Because of this framework the United States has arguably the best managed fisheries in the world.
Its worth repeating that one of the keys to this, is the ability of fishery managers to manage within their region and this is primarily due to the flexibility that is provided in the Act. I know there will be some discussion of this issue at this week’s conference and I look forward to hearing your recommendations.
In addition to managing the fish and the fishermen, the Act recognizes that there are coastal communities that rely on the fisheries for their economic livelihood. The Act again requires a balance between the need to maintain a sustainable fishery and the need to continue to provide an economic basis for these fishery-dependent coastal communities.
Fishermen and coastal communities that depend on healthy fisheries are certainly facing challenges. The Secretary of Commerce declared seven fisheries disasters in 2012 and several more have been requested.
- New England is facing severe cuts in the quotas for important fisheries.
- The Gulf of Mexico is facing severely restrictive fishing seasons for recreational fishermen.
- The Pacific Northwest is seeing management and data collection costs growing with an ever increasing burden falling on fishermen.
- All of these fisheries and all of these regions need economic stability and certainty.
The timing for this conference could not be better. It is Congress’ responsibility to re-examine and reauthorize the laws that we create and the current authorization for the Magnuson-Stevens Act expires at the end of Fiscal Year 2013. The time for Congress to work on this reauthorization is now.
As Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee – the House Committee with jurisdiction over the Magnuson- Stevens Act - I have already begun the reauthorization process with several hearings in the last Congress and, in March, the first of several hearings we will hold this year.
It is my goal is to try and reauthorize this important statute this Congress.
At the first hearing, in March the major themes from witnesses were that:
- The Act is basically sound, but many of the challenges come from the implementation of the Act;
- The Act requires a balance between “preventing overfishing” and “achieving optimum yield”. This balance has recently been shifted more toward preventing overfishing and underplays the needs for economic stability and needs of the fishery dependent communities;
- Data is limited. Technology is not being used effectively for data collection, and agency funding priorities do not seem to reflect the need for better data;
- Flexibility is needed for Councils when establishing rebuilding timeframes and when setting Annual Catch Limits (ACLs);
- Rebuilding timeframes and Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) must take economics and community needs into consideration;
- Data for management does not keep pace with what fishermen are seeing on the water. This leads to increased frustration when low harvest levels continue but when fishermen are seeing recovery in real time and are not able to benefit from the recovery as it occurs; and
- The catch level recommendations and scientific guidance given by NOAA regional science centers to Councils and Council Scientific and Statistical Committees (SSCs) are not always developed or presented in a transparent manner.
While Congress has already begun the authorization process, the recommendations from this conference will certainly be an important for us to consider.
We are in the process of scheduling our next hearing on the reauthorization and it will be formally announced soon. It will be on data collection issues and it will be held on May 21st
, but there are other issues that need to be addressed at further future hearings.
One reason we will be focusing on data collection issues is that science underpins the entire management process. However, we often hear from fishermen that the science being used for management purposes is not “good” science. The Act requires fishery managers to use the “best scientific information available”. The problem is that often the “best” information is not “available”. This is a key factor for maintaining robust fisheries and we plan on examining this issue further.
When fishermen lose confidence in the science that is being used to regulate their activities, they are less likely to support management changes – especially if those changes restrict their activities.
There has got to be a better way to get up-to-date, accurate data on the fishery resources and on the harvest levels – both for recreational and commercial fisheries. Congress started this process in 2006 by requiring an overhaul of the recreation data collection process. Unfortunately, that data collection process is still underway.
But this is not just an issue for the recreational fisheries. Increasing burdens are being placed on commercial fishermen in the Pacific and the North Pacific. In this digital age, the use of new technologies as it relates to your industry is not keeping pace with innovation.
In addition to better science and better uses of technology, we need better transparency. Fishermen are less likely to participate in the process or adhere to the rules if they do not trust the managers or trust the science being used to regulate their livelihood. A reoccurring complaint from fishermen at our hearings is that many of the decisions that affect their ability to make a living are made behind closed doors.
The Regional Fishery Management Council system authorized in the Act is unlike any other natural resource management authority. This regional system was designed to allow those who are most affected by management decisions to have an active role in making those decisions.
The Act requires robust public participation and a very transparent process to be effective. The transparency aspect need to be further examined .
While some of you may not like some Councils’ decisions, I suspect you would much prefer working through the Council system than having someone in Washington, D.C. - who may know little or nothing about your fishery - making decisions about your livelihood.
National Ocean Policy/Other Statutes that Affect Fisheries
While the Magnuson- Stevens Act allows for direct public involvement by the affected resource users, it is, unfortunately, not the only statute or regulation that affects fishing.
As many of you are aware, the Obama Administration released an executive order in 2010 that created a National Ocean Policy. The Administration decided to sidestep the legislative process despite the fact that four Congresses had considered legislation to create a very similar ocean policy and created the National Ocean Policy by executive order and without statutory authority.
Not only does this Policy add new policy goals and requirements for federal agencies to meet when permitting activities, it creates a new level of bureaucracy that will certainly add more hoops for all Americans to jump through.
And while the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires direct public participation, the National Ocean Policy envisions Regional Planning Bodies made up entirely of government officials. The Policy exempts these regional bodies from the Federal Advisory Committee Act (or FACA) which is the primary statute that requires transparency and public participation. As you are aware, the Regional Fishery Management Councils raised concerns with this arrangement. The Administration could not have created a more tortured way of including the Councils – done in an effort to maintain the FACA exemption. The result is that when the National Ocean Policy and the regional planning bodies are operational, no fishermen will be included. Does “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”, sound familiar?
This is just one example of the lack of public involvement and lack of transparency that surrounds the National Ocean Policy. My committee has held six hearings related to this Policy and we have sent a number of letters to the co-chairs of the National Ocean Council and we still have not been able to get answers to simple questions. Questions about how this Policy is being funded and how many federal employees or detailees are working on this policy should be easy to answer. But when we cannot get answers to these simple questions, it makes us wonder what they are hiding.
One of the other laws that is requiring a great deal of focus this Congress is the Endangered Species Act, which was last authorized by Congress nearly 25 years ago. This law has done more to keep environmental lawyers in business than it has to recover species or to balance the needs of average Americans.
Aside from the burdens created by the ESA, to most objective observers, the law is failing to achieve even its primary purpose of species recovery. Federal agencies charged with its implementation every year spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars under the rubric of “endangered species recovery.” Yet, the law, over the past 40 years has only achieved, at best, a one or two percent recovery rate.
The Department of Interior and NOAA have signed closed-door settlement agreements with litigious environmental groups that require the federal government to decide whether to list and designate habitat for over literally hundreds of species and sub-species within the next three years. These back-room deals will almost certainly have an effect on both commercial and recreational fisheries, and the lack of transparency in these deals is disturbing. In addition, the funding that will be required to implement these “deals” will further strain already tight agency budgets for things like fishery surveys and stock assessments.
The Administration’s doubling-down on regulating through ESA-related litigation not only raises serious questions about the scope of their authority, but underscores the need for a serious examination of the ESA itself. This Committee intends to do just that this Congress.
I want to thank you all for being here and look forward to your suggestions for how Congress and the agency can make fisheries management better for the fish, the fishermen, and fishing communities.
This conference will certainly give us a lot of information to consider. In addition to the findings of this conference, there are a number of other efforts underway which will help us with the reauthorization - the General Accounting Office, the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General, and the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences have or will be releasing reports that will add to our deliberations.
I look forward to working with you on this important reauthorization and look forward to reviewing the recommendations that will come from this conference.
I wish I could stay longer today, but the House is in session this week and unfortunately, I need to run back to Capitol Hill. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today.