WASHINTGON, DC (10-25-13) — Senator David Vitter (R-La.) announced yesterday that he would “hold” the nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) until he received a commitment that NOAA Fisheries would address the ongoing failure of the Agency to implement its own allocation policies and to provide some leadership and direction to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
The focus of Senator Vitter on the key issue of fisheries allocation was lauded by the leading organizations in marine recreational fishing and boating: Coastal Conservation Association, American Sportfishing Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, International Game Fish Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association.
“It shouldn’t have to come to this,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “After all, NOAA is an agency charged with managing our public marine resources in a manner to achieve the greatest benefits to the nation and there is no way to manage any fishery to achieve that goal when the managing agency insists on adhering to an allocation that was set using catch history from the 1980s. We really appreciate Senator Vitter stepping in to make NOAA Fisheries do its job.”
Most government agencies are well familiar with the concept of assessing and allocating public resources in the timber, energy and telecommunication industries, for example. Unlike the complex systems used to evaluate those resources, however, NOAA Fisheries has relied on simple past catch history to set allocations between the commercial and recreational sectors. The process involves selecting a snapshot in history, usually a span of three years or so, and basing allocations on how much the commercial sector caught over that time frame versus how much the recreational sector caught. The snapshot used for red snapper is from the 1980s, around the time when shrimp trawl bycatch of juvenile red snapper caused the recreational snapper harvest to decline by 87 percent from 1980- 1984. The allocation of 51 percent commercial to 49 percent recreational that was produced by that process still stands today.
“Given all the turbulence surrounding Gulf red snapper over the past several years, it is past time to look at the fundamental underpinnings of how we manage this fishery,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “Ignoring the problem is irresponsible.”
The Secretary of Commerce is legally obligated, along with the Fishery Management Councils, to establish procedures to ensure a fair and equitable allocation of fish harvest for Gulf red snapper – and every other federally managed fishery. The Obama Administration three years ago committed to review guidelines for implementing fair and equitable allocations. While some preliminary work has been done to develop options for moving forward with allocation reviews, so far, neither NOAA nor any Council has produced such guidelines.
“Federal managers simply must address allocation,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Our system of federal fisheries management is broken to a point where a United States Senator is compelled to force a federal agency to do a fundamental part of its job. We support Sen. Vitter’s continued efforts to make government act responsibly.”