A Message To Fishermen From Outgoing NOAA Staffers - The Fisherman

A Message To Fishermen From Outgoing NOAA Staffers

In a recent guest editorial in the National Fisherman magazine – a magazine geared towards commercial fishermen – two outgoing staffers from NOAA Fisheries said they have seen “solid progress that helps commercial and recreational fishing industries,” while outlining key issues that they believe need to be followed by the Biden administration in terms of managing coastal fisheries.

Dr. Stuart Levenbach, former NOAA Chief of Staff, and Kevin Wheeler, former NOAA Director of Policy, said that as the federal fisheries agency transitions to a new political leadership team, it is important to build upon the achievements made during four years of the Trump administration while continuing efforts to support the commercial and recreational fishing sectors:

Levenbach and Wheeler wrote that NOAA Fisheries has continued to make significant progress on improving the status of U.S. fish stocks, with two additional fish stocks declared rebuilt in 2020, bringing the total number of fish stocks rebuilt since 2000 to 47.  “The overfishing list dropped to 22 stocks, setting an all-time low,” the authors noted, adding that 93 percent of the stocks managed by NOAA are not subject to overfishing and 81 percent are not overfished.

The two outdoing NOAA staffers also stressed the need for cooperation by the Biden administration and the regional fishery management councils in helping reduce regulatory burden.  The authors noted that a total of 62 deregulatory actions were finalized between fiscal years 2017 and 2020, which helped save fishermen over $50 million per year. “More importantly, there are approximately 30 deregulatory actions currently in the pipeline within NOAA Fisheries,” they added.

Specifically related to the recreational fishing community, Levenbach and Wheeler noted that a greater role for states in managing recreational fisheries is needed, citing efforts in the Gulf of Mexico with the red snapper fishery as a success in breaking up what they called a “log jam” of fisheries management.  “We think incorporating state-derived data into federal stock assessments will lead to more opportunities for recreational anglers,” they noted.

In terms of the hands off approach to dealing with fishing communities as supported by some members of Congress – that being that wide areas of ocean should be deemed off limits with fishermen keeping their “hands off” the fish stocks marine reserves – Levenbach and Wheeler stressed the need to support working waters instead of vast marine monuments.

“When rolling out the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in December, the sponsors in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife said the Magnuson-Stevens Act has ‘made the U.S. a global leader in sustainable fisheries,’” to which the pair said they agreed.  “So why then is it necessary to circumvent the regional fishery management council process and set aside large areas of U.S. waters as no-fishing zones,” the pair asked.

Citing the overturning of an Obama administration decision to ban commercial fishing in an offshore area called the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument by the Trump administration, Levenbach and Wheeler seemingly questioned efforts by the Biden administration to reverse the ban yet again.  “Our preference for conservation is to use the national marine sanctuary process, which is stakeholder-driven and considers fishing interests in its management plans,” the authors noted.

On offshore wind, the outgoing NOAA staffers urged the Biden administration to fully analyze the impacts of offshore wind on fisheries.  “When the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conducts its environmental review of potential sites, NOAA Fisheries needs a seat at the table to ensure impacts to fisheries are fully considered,” the authors said, adding that NOAA Fisheries should also build into its budget the necessary funding for a technical support unit for offshore wind projects “to ensure it has the capacity to conduct environmental review in a timely manner.”

“Our time at NOAA developing policies to assist fisheries management has come to an end, but many achievements were made that provide a solid foundation to build for continued success, Levenbach and Wheeler said in their summary, adding “Much work remains to be done, but without a sustained commitment to working with commercial and recreational fishing sectors, these gains will be lost.”

The full piece can be found at nationalfisherman.com.