Fisheries bill introduced in Senate

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With a Dec. 31 deadline looming, support is mounting for legislation to ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service uses sound science to set catch limits for the nation’s fisheries.

A Senate version of the Fishery Science Improvement Act was introduced Monday by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires Regional Fishery Management Councils to put in place annual catch limits for every fishery by Dec. 31. The requirements were intended to end overfishing by 2011, but were predicated on two critical assumptions: Catch limit decisions would be based on up-to-date and accurate stock assessments, and there would be improved catch data to better anticipate potential problems in a given fishery.

Neither of these obligations has been met, according to a release from the National Marine Manufacturers Association and other concerned stakeholders, including the American Sportfishing Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the International Game Fish Association and The Billfish Foundation.

Similar to legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and 34 bipartisan co-authors, the Nelson/Rubio bill has the backing of a broad coalition of fishing, boating and industry groups that see a critical need for federal managers to avoid an unacceptable situation in which the groups say arbitrary deadlines are being allowed to trump the need for science-based management of marine resources.

“Fishery management decisions should be based on sound science,” Nelson said in a statement. “This legislation will ensure that science is a priority.”

“It’s a simple formula,” Rubio added. “Regulatory decisions, if necessary, should always be based on sound science. This legislation provides a simple answer to fishermen and to fishery managers.”

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus — the largest bipartisan, bicameral caucus in Congress, with nearly 300 members representing all 50 states — has lent its voice to calls for this legislation, which will safeguard the strong conservation standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act while addressing shortcomings within NOAA Fisheries.

To maintain MSA’s conservation tenets, the Nelson/Rubio bill would not apply to stocks that already have been determined to be overfished. However, it offers key components that are intended to steer NOAA Fisheries back to the true intention of the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization. The bill states that if NOAA Fisheries has not done a stock assessment on a particular stock in the past six years and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, no annual catch limit on that stock is required.

The federal government has about 528 fish stocks or complexes of stocks under management, and today only 121 of those stocks are considered “adequately assessed.”

“The Nelson/Rubio bill provides a timely path for NOAA Fisheries to manage all of America’s marine fish stocks based on sound science,” according to the stakeholders’ statement.

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