Hard to Manage a Fishery with Poor Science

No facts equals bad decisions in fisheries.

I went to high school with a guy named Magnuson -- never liked the name, and I like it even less now. Not because of the guy on my high school basketball team who always hogged the ball, but because of the law that is named after Warren G. Magnuson, former U.S. senator from Washington state, who co-authored the Act.

Frankly, I think we're all tired of it. But ignoring a problem does not make it go away, hence our decision to run this very informative article. The more you know about what the "powers-to-be" are doing, the better you can protect your fishing life.

So Who Pays for the Science?

Here's an idea: Maybe the NSA can put some of its surplus spy expertise into the oceans.

For years, the United States has tried to drive its fishing policies with data — collecting information about numbers of fish caught, along with their species, ages, and locations — so it can better protect species and ecosystems that are overfished. But the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration can't quite match the NSA's data-monitoring skills, leaving fisheries in limbo. They want to preserve the country's aquatic resources, but they can't do that without good science to guide their actions.

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Last week, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed some controversial changes to the law governing fisheries that could loosen some of the scientific restrictions that are supposed to direct fishing rules. These changes aren't in effect yet — the bill still needs to go through the House floor, the Senate, and also the President — but the effort is worth paying attention to, especially if you work in fishing, fish recreationally, live near the sea, eat seafood, or care about the long-term health of the oceans.

The bill is a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act1, a 40-year-old law governing US fisheries. It was originally written to protect US fish stocks from foreign anglers, but was later revised to look out for the long-term longevity of ocean species. The biggest changes came in 2006, when the bill was changed to emulate the so-called "Alaska Model," which sets up annual catch limits and stock building requirements based on the best available science.

Poor Science Equals Poor Decisions

But the problem, according to those in favor of the bill's revisions, is that in many areas, the best available science is pretty paltry. Right now, most fisheries run on sparse data, which results in precautionary fishing directives. "It is an aspirational bill and it sets a very high bar, but for it to work, Congress needed to fund the science to that level," says Robert Vanasse, the executive director of Saving Seafood, a fishing industry-funded advocacy group.

Many fisheries managers have felt pinched, because the 2006 bill Congress asked for a lot of science that it hasn't been willing to pay for. "It would be fantastic if we could manage every fishery the way the Magnuson-Stevens Act says we should. But in order to meet that bar, you have to have the science. And in order to have the science, you need to fund the science," says Vanasse.

commercial fishing

The new bill doesn't necessarily throw scientific requirements away: Instead, it loosens the ties between the scientific requirements and the guidelines that govern the fishing of each species. This gives fisheries managers more room for setting catch limits, eases regulations on by-catch, and gives them a tremendous amount of leeway for developing recovery plans for impacted species.

This sounds great if you're a fisherman, but to conservationists the changes more closely resemble a bovine releasing a large amount of excrement. "By rejecting the Alaska Model and returning flexibility to the regional fishery councils, we're concerned that it will be a big step backwards," says Ted Morton, of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Morton fears the changes will lead to overfishing. And not just of marquee species like cod and red snapper (more about those guys a little later), but also of feeder fish—the tiny swimmers that get scooped up by the billions, but are also the backbone of many marine ecosystem. He says the bill also sets a bad precedent by letting economic needs dictate how our fisheries are managed, creating loopholes for industry-friendly fisheries managers.

Read the rest of the story below.

America Needs More Government Surveillance on Fish

By Nick Stockton for Wired.com

The Online Fisherman

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