The Pending Fisheries Train Wreck

Posted on September 15, 2010

Nowhere is it more apparent that NOAA Fisheries (Formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service) will be unable to meet the requirements of the 2006 MSA reauthorization than in the table below. 

The MSA demands that all popular species (ones that comprise the majority of the catch) have Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) and Accountability Measures (AMs) defined for them. Of course, an AM requires a defined catch limit. The table below represents the data status of species in the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's red drum, reef fish and shrimp fishery management plants (FMPs). The problem is obvious - the federal government has no assessments, no overfishing classifications and no ability to set any science-based catch limit on the majority of these species.
The table below is a small snippet of the whole picture, but it does not take much imagination to envision the multitude of species under the management of NOAA Fisheries that do not have a determination on their overfished status and therefore no ACLs or AMs in place. While some species are insignificant in the catch and/or are part of a species assemblage (thus not requiring an individual FMP), clearly the majority of them do. To complete the picture, you must then factor in the time it will take for the fishery management councils to review the stock assessments, draft a fishery management plan for each, review it, approve it, and finally submit it to the Department of Commerce to confirm the determinations on overfishing, ACLs and AMs. Each of these normally takes one to three years from draft to final approval. 
And all those determinations are required on every stock. By 2011. 
With its startling lack of data, there is simply no way NOAA Fisheries can catch up on decades of work in the remaining time. NOAA Fisheries will likely be left open to an avalanche of lawsuits, legal actions and court reviews stemming from the crushing lack of science. The federal fisheries management system is heading into a train wreck that will paralyze its ability to manage. The entire federal management system will be forced to ignore real conservation and management issues and deal with largely unnecessary plans unless something is done to change the law and allow managers to prioritize management for those species with the most need.