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Conservation Group Welcomes Oceans Report
Seafood coalition praises findings of federal commission


April 22, 2004

Juneau, AK - The Marine Conservation Alliance (MCA) on Tuesday welcomed the release of the long-awaited report of the blue-ribbon U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (USCOP). The USCOP, created by Congress in 2000, calls on the federal government to develop a comprehensive oceans policy and to place a higher priority on better understanding the oceans and climate, as well as highlighting the need to address environmental problems associated with dramatic increases in population and pollution along the nation's coastlines.

"We are encouraged the Commission recognizes sustainable management can be achieved through the existing system of regional fishery management councils and that the Commission specifically cited the North Pacific council as an example of responsible management," Ron Clarke, MCA executive director, said. The MCA is a coalition of Alaska and Pacific Northwest fishermen and seafood processors, coastal communities, and Alaska Native groups.

Regarding management of U.S. fish stocks, the USCOP pointed to fisheries off Alaska as success stories: "The North Pacific RFMC [Regional Fishery Management Council] appears to be working well - Of the 82 stocks under its jurisdiction with sufficient information to assess, none was classified as overfished in 2001 and only 2 stocks are at levels of abundance that indicate past overfishing."

Half of all fish landed annually in the U.S. comes from the abundant and sustainably managed fisheries off Alaska, including wild Alaska salmon, halibut, crab, and groundfish species, including walleye pollock and Pacific cod. The Commission noted the progressive fishery management practices help sustain these fisheries, which economists estimate are worth $2.3 billion annually, and provide tens of thousands of jobs in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

"The MCA was especially gratified by the USCOP's efforts to strengthen the regional fishery management council system by increasing its reliance on its scientific advisors," Clarke said. Specifically, Clarke said the MCA supports USCOP recommendations to: 1) require institutionalization of the Councils' science advisory bodies; 2) require Councils not to exceed allowable biological catch limits or overfishing limits set by science advisors; 3) increase monitoring of catches; and 4) significantly increase the federal fishery research budgets so management decisions can be better grounded in sound science.

The Commission's findings, which now go to the Governors of all 50 states for comment before being formally presented to Congress, are based on numerous public hearings, including visits by the Commission to Anchorage and Seattle in 2002. In addition to public comment, the Commission conducted an exhaustive review of published information on the state of the oceans.

The report outlines a range of environmental concerns and the failure of a coordinated federal oceans policy to address identified problems. The USCOP's report points to concern over unevenness in fisheries management across regions of the U.S. and calls for changes in federal fisheries policy to end overfishing where it is occurring. The report notes federal fisheries off Alaska could serve as a model for responsible fisheries management (e.g., the North Pacific Council has a history of setting harvest levels at or below the level recommended by its SSC [Science and Statistical Committee].), and the MCA will urge Congress to take note of the North Pacific example when considering policy changes needed to replicate this success in other regions.


USCOP Recommendations Supported by the Marine Conservation Alliance

  • Strengthen the regional fishery management councils. The USCOP says authority should rest with regional councils and the management process should be fully transparent, involving scientists and stakeholders as is true in the North Pacific.
  • Increased role for science. The commission favors a stronger role for scientific advisory committees, which determine biological limits, and to prevent councils from exceeding those limits. This has been the practice in federal fisheries off Alaska,s shores for more than 25 years.
  • Increase research. The commission urges a doubling of federal research dollars, a move supported by the MCA. The industry has demonstrated its support by contributing more than $1 million annually to marine research programs sponsored by Alaska and Pacific Northwest universities.
  • Use new technology and observer programs, such as the program long established in the North Pacific.
  • Include ecosystem considerations in federal fishery management. While scientists are still learning about the complexities of marine ecosystems, the USCOP wants to incorporate what is known into regional decisions such as setting safe harvest levels and protecting marine mammals, seabirds, and habitat -- as is done in the North Pacific.
  • Set aside marine protected areas. The commission urges more marine reserves to protect the ocean environment -- steps already taken in the North Pacific.
  • Rationalize fishery management. To address problems with "overcapitalization (i.e., too many fishing vessels), the Commission recommends "dedicated access privileges such as those already practiced in the North Pacific.


Fishery Management Highlights in the North Pacific Identified by the MCA

  • The regional North Pacific Fishery Management Council includes federal and state fisheries managers as well as a diverse group of stakeholders, who work cooperatively in setting conservative harvest limits. An independent committee of federal, state and university scientists reviews every fishing plan and uses a precautionary approach in recommending safe harvest levels. Fishery managers set catch limits at or below the harvest level recommended by its scientific advisory panel. Presently, overall groundfish catch levels are at two-thirds of the "acceptable biological catch level recommended by scientists.
  • Trained federal fishery observers are assigned full time to the vessels that account for most of the catch in the groundfish fishery, ensuring catch levels are not exceeded and collecting vital data to improve fish stock assessments. The commercial fishing industry pays $10-12 million annually to fund what is believed the most comprehensive fishery observer program in the world.
  • Bycatch, or the discarding of fish that is not marketable or reserved by regulation for other fishermen, is strictly limited, and has been greatly reduced by improvements in gear and fishing practices.
  • Protective measures for seabirds and marine mammals have significantly reduced incidental take of these animals.
  • Some 130,000 square miles of ocean under U.S. or state jurisdiction have been set aside as off limits to some or all fishing activity. These marine protected areas, which encompass an area the size of Indiana, are intended to minimize the impact of fishing on sensitive habitat or other marine life.
  • The "race for fish that plagues many fisheries has been eliminated by the use of "dedicated access privileges that allow fishermen and processors to operate on a more rational, environmentally friendly basis.

The MCA was established in 2001 by fishing associations, communities, Community Development Quota groups, harvesters, processors, and support sector businesses to promote the sustainable use of North Pacific marine resources by present and future generations -- based on sound science, prudent management, and a transparent, open public process. The Marine Conservation Alliance supports research and public education about the fishery resources of the North Pacific, and seeks practical solutions to resource use questions to both protect the marine environment and minimize adverse impacts on the North Pacific fishing community.


Related News:

A Blueprint for U.S. National Ocean Policy for the 21st Century: U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy Releases Preliminary Report...


Source of News Release:

Marine Conservation Alliance
Web Site



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