Conservation Group Welcomes
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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