New GAO Report Finds Inconsistencies and Data Gaps in Federal Efforts to Prevent Overfishing

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report today examining the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) and Regional Fisheries Management Councils’ efforts to prevent overfishing and assess fishing stocks across the agency’s six regional fisheries science centers. The report was requested by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva in November 2019. 

The report found that fishery stock assessments varied widely across NMFS’ six regional science centers, with one center assessing only 10 percent of its stocks and another assessing nearly 80 percent of its stocks. Data collection challenges were named as one of the key reasons for this variability. GAO identified two recommendations for improving one of NMFS’ primary databases for fisheries science.

Overfishing presents major challenges to the health and sustainability of the United States’ fisheries and fish stocks, as well as the world’s oceans at large. Fisheries support millions of jobs and contributed approximately $118 billion to the country’s economy in 2019. Robust efforts to monitor and prevent overfishing are critical to the economic and environmental sustainability of the nation’s fisheries.

GAO’s full report is available here: https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-23-105172 

“U.S. fisheries are essential to the health of our oceans and our country’s economy, but the new challenges brought on by both the climate crisis and overfishing are putting them at serious risk,” said Chair Grijalva. “That’s why it’s critical that NMFS and our Fishery Management Councils are working at the top of their license to do their part in managing them effectively. I encourage NMFS to take the recommendations of this report seriously. I also want to thank my colleague Congressman Huffman for his tireless work on legislation to reauthorize and update the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which recently passed through Committee and will help address some of the issues highlighted in this report.”

“Fisheries management is only as good as the data on which it’s based,” said Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Chair Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “This new GAO report identifies major data gaps on our depleted fish stocks, making it all the more difficult for our fishery managers to recover them. That, coupled with changing environmental conditions from our warming climate, makes it increasingly complicated to rebuild these important fish stocks. Luckily, we’ve identified solutions – like my bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which contains important provisions for modernizing fisheries data and improving rebuilding outcomes for our overfished stocks. This report underscores how badly those updates are needed, and I’ll keep pushing to make the changes necessary for the survival of our fisheries and those who depend on them.”

Rep. Huffman introduced H.R. 4690, the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act, to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) on July 26, 2021. MSA is the primary statute governing fisheries management in U.S. federal waters. Rep. Huffman’s legislation will modernize MSA to account for climate change and improve fisheries science and data, among other important provisions. A fact sheet on the bill is available here.

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