National Policy

“Data, data, data”

In New England, Atlantic cod has been overfished and subject to overfishing for decades. Image via NOAA.

The Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing today on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the primary federal law governing our nation’s fisheries. It was the first in a series of hearings about the MSA and its reauthorization; the focus of this particular hearing was to understand NOAA’s and the regional councils’ perspectives. The testifying witnesses were Chis Oliver, the newly appointed administrator of NOAA Fisheries, and Dr. John Quinn, Chairman of the Council Coordination Committee and the New England Fishery Management Council (Quinn testified on behalf of the CCC).

Around the nation, the MSA is seen as a success: 43 U.S. fish stocks have been rebuilt since 2000. But there are many stocks that are still overfished or are experiencing overfishing (some both), and New England happens to have the longest list of stocks that fall into those categories. That should not, however, be seen as a failure of the law.

It’s been more than a decade since the MSA was last reauthorized. Congress is now thinking about how the law can continue to support our most sustainable fisheries and address the challenges that many still face.

At the hearing, both witnesses delivered detailed opening remarks and answered a wide range of questions from the Senators, but there was one theme that emerged from the hearing: the need for data.

When answering questions about both commercial and recreational fisheries, from how to improve stock assessments, to how to address fishermen’s frustration with catch limits, to how to manage forage fish and transition to ecosystem-based management, to how to deal with the effects of climate change…repeatedly, both Oliver and Quinn emphasized data.

The crux of the MSA is that management decisions must be based on the best available science. If, we as a nation wish to have the most sustainable, robust fisheries in the world, while providing economic opportunity and supporting vibrant coastal communities, it is necessary to have accurate data available to scientists performing research and managers making decisions based on that research.

That also means that we should take advantage of the newest technology available. This includes the use of electronic monitoring in place of human observers. Of course, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but electronic monitoring can provide a more cost effective and reliable way for collecting data about what goes on at sea. Both witnesses spoke to the success of electronic monitoring and the importance of having it as an option in our fisheries.

Overall, it is most important to not lose sight of the key objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including preventing overfishing and rebuilding overfished stocks.

The witnesses and Senators also had conversations about annual catch limits, the intersection of Magnuson-Stevens with the National Environmental Protection Act, flexibility in our fisheries, and much more. If you are further interested, you can watch the full hearing here.


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