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August 13, 2013

New Legislation Would Require Better Science to Manage Fisheries

Rep. Rob Wittman will seek cosponsors for H.R. 3063 when Congress resumes in the fall.

One of the most recurrent themes among public concerns with marine fisheries management in this country has, for some years, been that of getting the science right — particularly when it comes to the critical stock assessments on which rules and regulations are based.

The federal government — NOAA Fisheries/National Marine Fisheries Service — has been working to improve its stock assessments, but for many species, there remains an acknowledged dearth of data.

In early August, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va) introduced to the House H.R. 3063, titled the Healthy Fisheries Through Better Science Act. The bill states that “To improve our nation’s fisheries, federal fisheries managers should ensure timely stock assessments, and better involve fishermen and non-federal partners to improve fisheries science and wherever possible reduce compliance and monitoring costs.” It would address three areas of concern:

1. Timely and valid stock assessments

Wittman’s legislation would require the Secretary of Commerce to develop of a plan for completing and updating stock assessments. Specifically, that would entail renewing stock assessments every five years and conducting assessments for stocks lacking an assessment in the past three years.

2. Improving science

The bill would also improve the science of stock assessments by requiring NMFS to use data and analyses provided both by government and nongovernmental sources including fishermen, fishing communities, universities, research institutions, etc. The congressman points out that NMFS has been reluctant to accept data from sources such as fishermen, “who often know the resource best.” The act would require that standards be established for the submission of data and analyses by outside sources, including fishermen and academics. It would require the Secretary of Commerce to accept data and analyses that comply with established standards — or explain why that information wasn’t incorporated.

3. Cost reduction

Finally, the legislation requires NMFS to conduct analyses to confirm that it’s implementing the most cost-effective monitoring of each fishery, and develop long-term plans for cost transition and cost sharing in effected fisheries.

Congress ended its session just after Wittman introduced this legislation; a spokesperson for his office says the push for support — cosponsors — will begin this fall. The bill is with the Committee on Natural Resources, of which Wittman is a member.