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July 18, 2011

Charting a Course for Success: NOAA's Recreational Fisheries Initiative

An op-ed from NOAA administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco

While a large portion of fisheries management attention has traditionally been directed to the business of commercial fishing, the last 18 months bear witness to an intentional sea-change in NOAA's approach to managing recreational fisheries.   In the next few paragraphs, I wish to describe what we're doing and where we're headed.

Early in my tenure as NOAA Administrator, I recognized that insufficient attention had been devoted to saltwater anglers and the myriad businesses they support.  Recreational fishing and boating are important for cultural, economic and conservation reasons.  Recreational fishing is a fundamental part our nation's social fabric.  I know because I have fond memories of fishing with my Dad.  NOAA estimates there are 12 million saltwater anglers who take around 85 million trips annually.  The aggregate expenditures of anglers amount to approximately $31 billion each year, their activities have an $82 billion economic impact and support almost 400,000 jobs.  Equally important is the recreational fishing community's focus on conservation with a commitment to the long-term health of ocean resources. 

 As NOAA Administrator, I set the agency on a course to strengthen communications with recreational anglers, understand your needs, take specific actions to address your concerns and incorporate your perspectives into the management process.  To begin the process, NOAA Fisheries redirected precious resources to appoint a National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries and Regional Recreational Coordinators in each of NOAA's six regions.  Each received explicit instructions to open up communications with saltwater anglers.   Then, with your input and their effort, we convened a National Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit to hear the concerns and priorities of anglers.  Following the Summit, we responded by releasing the National Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Action Agenda: and - much to the surprise of many attendees - have been making good progress implementing it. 
One of the first and most important issues we have tackled is improved data and information about recreational catch and effort.  Putting such information in the hands of fishery managers quickly is essential for responsive, adaptive management.  NOAA has made important progress toward improving recreational data collection through the new national registry of saltwater anglers, development of new angler surveys and improved catch estimation methodologies.  More progress is planned in coming years.

We heard angler concerns over the quality and timeliness of fisheries population assessments, which provide the fish stock status information needed for fishery management decisions.  In response, NOAA significantly increased the budgets for stock assessments, including requests for additional funds in FY2012. Together these projects will help NOAA estimate catches more accurately, more efficiently, and in a timelier manner leading to improved fishery management decisions.
These are just some of our recent accomplishments and I am proud of our work, however, I also recognize that much remains to be done to achieve sustainable fisheries and build a future that holds a positive and satisfying recreational experience as a central tenet.   Two important components of doing so will involve addressing the complex issues of quota allocation and continuing implementation of annual catch limits.  NOAA Fisheries has begun to address quota allocation head-on through the adoption of strong positions in the National Catch Shares Policy, and by hiring an independent outside expert to develop a strategy for actively engaging the fishery management councils and constituents around allocation issues. 

NOAA Fisheries will continue to dedicate substantial resources to address recently identified challenges associated with implementing annual catch limits for data poor stocks.  In addition, while continuing to address recreational priorities at the national level, we will also expand our focus regionally during the coming year, because we understand that what is most important to you happens where you live, fish and work.

NOAA cannot resolve the myriad of challenges to proper stewardship of our oceans alone.  Moreover, the downward pressures on our budget will present challenges for all of our programs.  Only through committed dialogue and partnerships can we identify and implement the changes necessary to reshape management and angling practices to assure that the recreational fishing experience of tomorrow is healthy, fun and sustainable. 

Dr. Jane Lubchenco is the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator