The Gulf Council demonstrates why significant reforms are necessary, having virtually ignored the mandates of the Sustainable Fisheries Act. The management councils must be reformed to separate the decision about how many fish can be caught from the social and economic considerations of who should be allowed to catch them. Fisheries management needs to be based on sound science, protecting habitats essential to healthy marine fish populations, and minimizing bycatch.
Council member speaks out against flawed system
In 2005, Gulf Council member James Fensom took the unusual step of removing his name from consideration for another three-year term. As he said in his letter to Florida Governor Jeb Bush, â€śFor the protection of the Gulf of Mexico, the existing federal fisheries programs and policies must be completely overhauled.â€ť
The complete text of Mr. Fensomâ€™s letter can be here: Fensom Council Letter
Strengthening the Use of Science in Fisheries Management
In many fisheries, councils must significantly limit the number of fish caught to ensure long-term sustainability while at the same time allocating fish among competing groups of fishermen. Because of this pressure, councils often delay conservation decisions and instead set unsustainable catch levels that are contrary to scientific recommendations.
To address this problem, the GRN supports amending the MSA to require councils to develop fishery management plans that conform to the recommendations of committees composed of qualified federal, state, academic, or independent scientists. These recommendations will specify sustainable catch levels and important habitats in need of protection.
Broaden the Representation on Fishery Management Councils and Reduce Conflict of Interest
A recent study by the Stanford University Fisheries Policy Project found that diverse perspectives facilitate effective decision-making; groups with diverse perspectives tend to consider a broader range of options when making decisions. Eighty-two percent of appointed Gulf Council members currently represent fishing interests.
Broadening the membership of the councils to provide equal representation of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, and members of the public knowledgeable in marine fisheries will enhance the councilsâ€™ ability to make good decisions.
To address this problem, the GRN supports amending the MSA to require governors to nominate a slate of candidates that includes at least two representatives of commercial fishing interests, recreational fishing interests, and representatives of the public to serve on councils. The amendment would also require the Secretary of Commerce to ensure balanced representation when appointing council members.
Currently, council members have an exemption from conflict of interest standards that apply to all other advisory bodies to the federal government. They are governed instead by provisions in the MSA which require them to recuse themselves from voting on a council action if they own or represent more than 10% of a fishery sector. The Stanford study found that only two recusals have been filed since 1997 out of thousands of votes, despite the fact that fully 60 percent of the appointed council members had a direct financial interest in the fisheries they managed.
To address this problem, the GRN supports amending the MSA to prohibit council members from voting on a matter affecting a fishery in which they have a financial interest. Currently, 6 of the Gulf Councilâ€™s 11 appointed members have a financial interest in the fisheries they manage.
As a critical step in ending overfishing and rebuilding sustainable fish populations in the Gulf, the GRN is calling on the Gulf Council and NMFS to develop and enact effective bycatch regulations as part of long-term ecosystem management.
The regulations must include the following guidelines:
- All managed fisheries must develop bycatch estimates.
- Bycatch estimates must take into consideration species that are thrown overboard because they are too small or are out of season as well as those that are discarded because they have no value.
- Bycatch estimates must include all commercial and recreational types of fishing gear.
- All efforts to estimate bycatch must be peer-reviewed.
- Bycatch estimates must by fully incorporated into management decisions, including calculations of yearly total allowable catch.
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