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Strange Bedfellows Call for Adequate Fish Funding

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At first glance a fishing organization and a conservation organization might seem like strange bedfellows. There is often mistrust between the fishing industry and conservation organizations because each sometimes doubts the other's commitment to ensuring sustainable fishing.

The At-sea Processors Association (APA) is a trade association representing six companies that own and operate 16 U.S.-flag catcher/processor vessels that participate in the Alaska pollock fishery and west coast Pacific whiting fishery.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world's oceans, securing policy victories through science-based campaigns.

Both APA and Oceana want to see healthy fish populations in our oceans. One thing we agree on wholeheartedly is that the federal government needs adequate funding to successfully implement the requirements under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the Nation's principal fisheries law, mostly through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, drastic funding cuts are threatening important programs that are necessary for responsible fisheries management.

One key priority is funding for fish stock assessments. It is extremely important that assessments are done frequently and correctly to determine fish population levels and to guide fishery managers in setting appropriate catch levels. The MSA was amended in 2006 to require catch limits for virtually every U.S. fishery and required fishery managers to end overfishing where it was occurring. We should all be proud of the progress made in the past six years to promote sustainable fishing in U.S. waters, but that progress is threatened by lack of adequate funding for fisheries science and management programs. Just as important, as scientific uncertainty from lack of research goes up, the allowable catch level is reduced, which means fewer fishing and fish processing jobs.

A second key priority is funding for fisheries monitoring and enforcement. Successful fisheries management relies on fair catch monitoring and enforcement of all laws both domestic and international, regulations and other requirements of the regional fishery management plans. Without resources for at-sea fisheries observers and enforcement personnel, compliance with fisheries laws will be inconsistent and the fisheries data collected by fisheries observers and used in fish stock assessments will not accurately reflect what is happening at sea. Effective monitoring and enforcement is also essential for ensuring that discarding of unwanted fish is minimized, as the law requires. Even in the fisheries occurring in federal waters off Alaska where the commercial fishing industry has been covering the costs of providing observers, that pioneering observer program has been recently expanded and needs start up funds to get the program going while new industry funds are collected. Other aspects of observer programs, such as, observer recruitment, training and debriefing are critical responsibilities of the NMFS, and the federal government must make those investments to complement industry contributions.

A final key priority is funding for Regional Councils and Fisheries Commissions because they provide the primary forums for participation in the fishery management process by industry, conservation organizations, and the general public. Reduced capacity by the Councils will result in delays in implementing timely and effective fishery management rules needed to adapt to constantly changing environmental conditions and frustration of stakeholders.

We know these are tough economic times that require sacrifice, but if we don't dedicate critically important resources now to understanding and protecting our oceans we will face potentially devastating problems in the future. That is why APA and Oceana agree that substantial funding increases are needed for key programs at NMFS, if the agency is expected to properly manage our fisheries and protect our oceans. As partners in these fisheries, industry, fishery managers, scientists, and conservationists must work together to ensure the continued health and sustainability of our marine resources. Our oceans are important both economically and ecologically. They provide both food and jobs. They deserve adequate funding.


Stephanie Madsen, Executive Director of the At-sea Processors Association, is a long time Alaskan and former chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

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Andrew Sharpless is CEO of Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world's oceans.

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