Bycatch rules, other fishing records due to changes; Public asked to comment

Since 1976, all fishing in federal waters, that is, from three to 200 miles offshore, has been dictated by regulations outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The regulations, which some call the “10 Commandments of Fishing,” are formally titled National Standards.

Now, many legislators and NOAA Fisheries say it’s time to update some of the standards to reflect today’s changing realities.

The deadline to comment on the proposed changes is September 12.

The MSA has been renewed and revised twice, in 1996 and 2006. Last September, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved a long-sought rewrite of the MSA called the Sustaining Fisheries for America’s Future Act. Joined”. Lawmakers noted that the guidelines have not been updated for nearly 17 years. Since then, changes in environmental conditions, changes in the distribution of fish populations, and concerns for equity and environmental justice have been at the forefront.

NOAA Fisheries stated that these and other events “suggest a need to review the guidelines to ensure they remain appropriate for current US fisheries management.”

In a press release this month announcing the start of the Federal Register comment period, NOAA Fisheries said it “strongly supports the need to improve the adaptability of our management processes in the context of changing environmental conditions and ensure the equity and environmental justice (ie, equity applied to environmental laws, policies and practices) within the fisheries management process”.

The proposed changes require updating three of the National Standards:

NS4 that it deals with the equitable distribution or allocation of fishing privileges among all users and “will not discriminate between residents of different states”;

NS8 which focuses on taking into account “the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities through the use of economic and social data…in order to (a) ensure the sustained participation of such communities and (b) to the extent possible, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities;” and,

NS9 which deals with bycatch and “requires that conservation and management measures, to the extent possible, (a) minimize bycatch and (b) to the extent that bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of said bycatch”.

Rejection from Republicans and industry who say the rule changes will cause “chaos”

Making changes to the bycatch rules has drawn the most pushback, particularly the proposal to remove the term “to the extent possible”, allowing for many loopholes.

Republican lawmakers have raised objections, arguing that the long-running MSA system is “a success” and “at risk from the proposed changes.”

More than 40 national and regional fishing industry groups and dozens of individual fishermen also sent the House Natural Resources Committee a warning about the potential consequences if the measure passes.

In a letter, they called the proposed changes to the MSA “overly partisan” and said it could throw the industry “into chaos.”

Opponents said bycatch is a reality in all commercial and recreational fisheries and a mandate to absolutely minimize bycatch in all circumstances…”could very well lead managers or courts to close fisheries where bycatch cannot be eliminated”.

His letter continued: “Federal sustainable fishing will be reduced or closed entirely. Waves of opportunistic litigation will create uncertainty. Workers in the seafood sector, even in remote coastal communities, will lose their jobs. Seafood buyers will be left without domestic inventory and will be forced to purchase more products from foreign sources. American consumers will see seafood prices rise at their local restaurants and supermarkets, and they will opt for less nutritious food options and protein with much higher carbon footprints than wild-caught seafood…Similarly, some of our nation’s largest fisheries would meet the definition of forage fish in their legislation, needlessly requiring strict new limitations on directed fishing.”

Ak’s Opponents include CDQ native groups

Alaska letter of interest signatories opposing updating the three fishing standards include four Alaska Native CDQ Groups: Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, Coastal Towns Regional Trust, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, and Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association.

Also, the Southeast Alaska Anglers Alliance, OBI Seafoods, Northern Seiners of Kodiak, United Catcher Boats, Groundfish Forum, Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, At-sea Processors Association, Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, and Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association. Nine individual fishermen signed the charter, eight from Kodiak, one from Homer.

Feds Offer Bycatch Commentary Hints

NOAA Fisheries provides guidance on the input it expects to receive from the public when considering fishing rule revisions.

He welcomes comments on ways to better balance the needs of bycatch and directed fisheries in a way that is equitable among different fisheries and gear types, especially when one or more fisheries are important to underserved communities.

It also “welcomes input” on whether the agency should consider: (1) adding provisions to address bycatch at the ecosystem level (as opposed to single-species metrics), (2) implementing provisions for alternative standards based on performance, or (3) increase provisions for documenting bycatch avoidance.

For the first time, the agency also wants to hear ideas about possible uses of bycatch.

It is calling for “revisions to the NS9 guidelines that could encourage provisions to incentivize waste reduction, including the use of innovations that decrease bycatch ( e.g, gear innovations or adjustable area closures that avoid certain species or sizes of fish), decrease bycatch mortality ( e.g, gear innovations that improve the health and survival of discards), or increase use while discouraging the capture of overexploited or low-productivity populations ( e.g, allow a fishery to retain and sell what would otherwise need to be discarded, either through quota purchases or other types of compensation; o allow bycatch to be donated to food shelters so it doesn’t go to waste but also doesn’t generate economic gain).”

Presentations planned for questions and answers; Comment before September 12

NOAA Fisheries will provide a presentation (virtual or in person) at upcoming Council meetings to answer questions and hear comments on the proposed changes to the three fishing standards.

The agency will also host a national webinar on the changes to the Guidelines on June 12 from 1:00-2:30 ET.

The webinar can be accessed using this link (AppQPS password O 3277777) or by using this call number: 1-415-527-5035 (access code: 276 204 65970).