Groups endorse new catch-limit legislation

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A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., seeks to ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Fisheries Service is required to set catch limits based on several factors supported by a group of industry associations.

The bipartisan legislation, known as the Fishery Science Improvement Act, is endorsed by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, as well as a broad coalition of conservation, sportfishing and marine industry groups, including the American Sportfishing Association, the International Game Fish Association and the Coastal Conservation Association.

“We applaud the vision and leadership of Mr. Wittman and the other FSIA co-sponsors,” Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, said in a statement. “The sportfishing community is facing an unacceptable situation in which arbitrary deadlines are being allowed to trump the essential need for science-based management of our marine resources.”

As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires Regional Fishery Management Councils to put in place annual catch limits and accountability measures for every fishery by Dec. 31.

The requirements were intended to end overfishing by 2011, but were predicated on two assumptions: NOAA Fisheries would make decisions based on up-to-date and accurate stock assessments and the agency would improve catch data to better anticipate potential problems in a given fishery. Neither of these obligations has been met, according to the groups in favor of new legislation.

To maintain the conservation tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the bill would not apply to stocks that are determined to be overfished. However, it offers three key components that the groups say are intended to steer NOAA Fisheries back to the true intention of the 2006 MSA reauthorization:

• If the agency has not done a stock assessment on a particular stock in the last five years and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, an annual catch limit on that stock is not required.

• The bill would give NOAA Fisheries three years to work with the regional councils to figure out how to implement science-based measures that are appropriate for each region and its fisheries.

• To avoid removing fish species from management entirely because of a lack of data, NOAA Fisheries is currently designating a limited number of such stocks as “ecosystem components,” allowing the continued federal management of the stock without the requirement to implement an annual catch limit or accountability measure. The bill codifies the agency’s designation and expands the universe of stocks protected in this category.

“This bill is simple and targeted,” National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich said in a statement. “As sportsmen, we have a specific problem with how NOAA Fisheries is being forced to implement the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and it has become apparent that we need Congress to address it. Without congressional action arbitrary decisions affecting millions of anglers and thousands of businesses will continue to be made.”

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