Modernizing Fisheries Management Should Benefit All Sectors
Shannon Carroll and Susie Zagorski
April 1, 2018
For more than forty years, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) has utilized a precautionary science-based approach to fisheries management. This approach has led to some of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world. A key component to this success has been the use of exempted fishing permits (EFPs), which have incentivized innovation, improved sustainability, and developed lasting partnerships between industry and managers.
It is surprising, then, that some members of Congress are seeking to limit the use of EFPs. As introduced, Senate Bill S. 1520 — the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 — does just that by making the EFP process so onerous that it is unlikely to be used in any region. In doing so, S. 1520 will inhibit the ability of industry and managers to pilot new and creative improvements to managing fisheries.
To provide some background, an EFP is a permit issued by the regional National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) staff. Prior to issuance, EFPs undergo a robust vetting process by the Council’s Science and Statistical Committee, as well as the Council. Once issued, an EFP allows fishing activities that would otherwise be prohibited under regulations, such as testing electronic monitoring equipment or carefully releasing fish that otherwise must be retained, for the purpose of the study. One of the major benefits of the EFP is the collaboration between the Council, NMFS, the fishing industry, and researchers. Results are directly reported to the Council and successful outcomes are more likely to be acted upon than if the same work was done outside an EFP.
The Alaska pollock fishery provides a helpful example. The first EFP issued in Alaska was to test a salmon excluder device for the bering sea pollock fishery in 2003. Since then, six more EFPs have been issued to continue the work on salmon excluders with each one building on the efforts of the previous EFP, leading to more advanced technology, industry involvement, and innovation. Through this process, industry, government, and fishing community representatives collaborated to develop salmon excluder devices that reduced bycatch while maintaining sustainable target catch rates. In 2015, tests of an “over/under” excluder resulted in 33-54% escapement of salmon with only 1-9% escapement of pollock. Reducing salmon bycatch by nearly half is a major success. The over/under excluder design that was tested is now used on many vessels in the GOA. Similar results were expected when using the same excluder design in the bering sea. However, after results were analyzed the salmon escapement rates were much lower, 3-18%, but the pollock escapement rates were minimal 0.5-2.2%. Thanks to the EFP process, new designs and an improved sampling plan will be tested in the bering sea from 2018 to 2020.
The next round of testing also includes more involvement by fishermen and stakeholders. Through workshops and flume tank and at-sea testing, fishermen have been providing innovative excluder designs, thinking about how they will be fished, how the fish will react, and then making fine detailed changes to the gear or technology to increase the gear’s success. In short, the fishing industry is helping to lead the way in salmon bycatch reduction, and that could not have happened without EFPs. Such success stories are not unique to the North Pacific; indeed, EFPs have led to innovation in all regions and provided a path for fishermen to get involved in the management process. There is no reason to support placing undue burdens on the ability of fishing industries to explore new and innovative ways to help sustainably manage their fisheries.
Moving beyond EFPs, it appears that many of the provisions in S. 1520 are designed to address allocation conflicts in certain regions of the country. This one-size-fits all approach is counter to the regional flexibility that has made the MSA so successful over its forty-year history. Rather than adding flexibility to MSA, imposing limitations on the management tools available to regional councils makes fisheries management more rigid and therefore less capable of addressing current and future challenges.
As such, Congress should focus on addressing issues that that will improve access to the resource for all gear groups and sectors. These measures include:
maintaining strong, science-based management, including robust rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits for all major fisheries and across all sectors;
improving science through more frequent stock assessments, improving assessment of data-poor stocks, and increasing collection of real-time information;
strengthening accountability through more comprehensive monitoring and more complete catch information from commercial, charter, and private angler fishing; and,
encouraging innovative and cost-effective approaches to monitoring and accountability, including more widespread use of fishery appropriate electronic monitoring and reporting.
The above measures will benefit all sectors and regions. By improving data and accountability, Congress can move fisheries management forward, leading to increased catch limits, more sustainable fisheries, improved access to the resource, and stronger regional economies.
Shannon Carroll is the deputy director for AMCC. Susie Zagorski is a fishery analyst for AMCC.