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Groups criticize NOAA policy on fisheries allocation

A long-awaited policy review has a coalition of recreational fishing advocates demanding Congress change laws.

A long-awaited policy review on fisheries allocation released by federal management overseers has a coalition of recreational fishing advocates demanding Congress change laws.

The coalition, while expressing appreciation for the long-awaited recognition for an allocation policy, is criticizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a policy that describes potential criteria for reviewing fisheries allocations for “lack of firm commitments and timelines for initiating allocation reviews.”

“It’s clear to me that this matter will ultimately require an Act of Congress,” Center for Coastal Conservation president Jeff Angers said in an email.

In response to decades of criticism over not examining how the nation’s public marine fisheries resources are divided among fishing stakeholders, NOAA Fisheries released a Fisheries Allocation Review Policy that describes potential criteria for reviewing fisheries allocations.

“We recognize and appreciate that allocation reviews are inherently difficult, but these decisions are too important for managers to continue dragging their feet,” American Sportfishing Association ocean resource policy director Mike Leonard said in a statement. “While the Fisheries Allocation Review Policy represents an important acknowledgement from NOAA Fisheries of the long overdue need to address allocations, the amount of indecision in the policy leaves us questioning whether any meaningful action will result from it.”

In most federally managed fisheries that are targeted by both recreational and commercial fishermen, the formula used for dividing the quota between the two sectors was determined decades ago based on historic catch.

Many in the recreational fishing community contend that these decisions need to be updated based on modern criteria that take into account the economic, social and conservation benefits the sectors provide to the nation.

The Fisheries Allocation Review Policy provides guidance to the Regional Fishery Management Councils on when to revisit allocations and what factors they might consider when making allocation decisions.

Within the next three years, or as soon as “practicable,” the Councils are responsible for determining what triggers would prompt a review of specific fishery allocations.

“In many ways, this policy tells us what we already knew: that allocation decisions are controversial and that federal fisheries managers will come up with all sorts of reasons to avoid having to review them,” Coastal Conservation Association conservation director Ted Venker said.

“While we appreciate that NOAA Fisheries took the initiative to develop this policy, it unfortunately provides a litany of excuses for why not to review allocations, with only minimal recognition of the potential benefits that reallocations could provide to the nation,” Venker said. “This reinforces to us the need for legislative action to require legitimate allocation reviews.”

One of the recommendations of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, also known as the Morris-Deal Commission named after co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boats, was to require an objective process and regular time intervals for reviewing allocations.

A provision to require allocation reviews in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico that was championed by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., was included in a bill that passed the House of Representatives last year to reauthorize the nation’s federal fisheries management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Similar language was also included in a Florida Fisheries Improvement Act by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

That legislation was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last year. However, neither of these bills has been signed into law at this time.

“Based on the significant progress made in recent years in ending overfishing, often with harsh impacts on fishing stakeholders, it’s clear that federal fisheries managers can achieve certain goals when sufficiently motivated,” Angers said in the statement.

“We are grateful that many in Congress have recognized the need to provide the necessary motivation on reviewing allocations, and we’ll continue to push for Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization to address this and other challenges for saltwater recreational fishing created by the current federal fisheries management system,” Angers said.

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