This past Tuesday, the draft bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act was released by the U.S. House. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is a big deal because this is the law that lays out how fisheries management works in the United States. This time, a number of changes have been proposed by Representative Doc Hastings, some of which could fundamentally change fisheries management and fisheries science in U.S. waters. The proposed changes immediately became controversial, garnering overwhelming support from witnesses to the House Natural Resources Committee hearing of the bill (witnesses included representatives from the recreational and commercial fishing industries as well as the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council) while the Pew Charitable Trust strongly opposed the bill, calling it the “Empty Oceans Act” (translated into GIFs by Upwell for your viewing pleasure).
How might the Hastings bill affect your favorite marine species (both in the water and on your dinner plate)? Read on to see the good, bad, and ugly aspects of these proposed changes, at least according to this particular fisheries scientist.
On October 17th, after a 16 day shutdown, the U.S. government re-opened. Here are what the twitter accounts from U.S. science and environment agencies had to say on their first day back. I’ll continue to update this throughout the day as more twitter accounts come back online
“To support a culture of openness, one of the policy’s key provisions affirms unequivocally that NOAA scientists may speak freely with the media and public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work without approval from the public affairs office or their supervisors.”
This new policy is a major step forward for government transparency and promotes the free and open exchange of knowledge among scientists in a public forum. Well done, NOAA.
Are you a NOAA scientist with something to get off you chest? Maybe you’d just like voice your support (or disdain) for the new integrity policy? Or perhaps you’d like to test the waters with an innocuous, but unsupervised, public statement? Please use the comment thread of this (or any other) post as an open forum for you to speak freely about scientific and technical matters based on your official work without approval from the public affairs office or your supervisors.
This 2011 Beneath the Waves Film Festival entry comes from Paul Hillman at NOAA. What Do Marine Mammals Eat? is part of the Microworlds series, which focuses on NOAA scientists interacting with public school students.
Earlier this month, NOAA provided a list of “pirate fishing” countries to Congress. This report identifies Portugal, Italy, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama as nations whose vessels engage in “illegal, unreported, unregulated” fishing.
Russell Smith, NOAA deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries, explains why this so-called pirate fishing is such a big deal:
“Illegal fishing must be stopped as it subjects our fishermen to unfair competition and undermines efforts to sustainably manage the valuable fish stocks around the world that so many communities depend on for food and jobs.”
The Pew Charitable trusts reports that an estimated 20% of all fish removed from the oceans are fished illegally. NOAA claims that this results in an annual loss of $23 billion to legal fisheries worldwide. Specifically, the six violator countries listed here are guilty of having:
“fishing vessels that did not comply with measures agreed to under various international fishery management organizations, such as closed fishing seasons, vessel registry lists, and a ban on the use of driftnets. Other violations included illegal gear modifications, fishing without authorization, and possession of undersized bluefin tuna.”
New proposed regulations for the red snapper fishery have conservationists celebrating and fishermen marching on Washington, DC in protest. Quota reductions are some of the most extreme and far-reaching I’ve ever come across. A huge area of the ocean (over 10,000 square miles) has been targeted for closure of not just the red snapper fishery… but all “bottom fishing” of the 73 species in the snapper-grouper management complex. According to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, such severe regulations are necessary because of the degree of overfishing that has been occurring (8 times the sustainable level since 1970). As a result of this overfishing, the stock is also considered to be seriously overfished- the National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that current stocks are 3% of target size. A total area closure is necessary, according to the SAFMC, because even accidental bycatch of red snapper while trying to catch other snapper-grouper complex fishes can seriously impact such a reduced population. Since these fish live in relatively deep water, they often die after being released. Finally, an 87% reduction in red snapper mortality needs to occur over many years (possibly decades) to rebuild stocks. These regulations are in place right now via a process called “the interim rule”, and meetings will take place later this year to determine if they should remain in place.
Because of the controversy surrounding this topic, SAFMC science personnel were unable to be interviewed. However, . Zack Bowen, a charter boat operator from Savannah, Georgia, and Blaine Dickenson, a recreational fishermen and SAFMC advisor, agreed to participate.