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Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard Oversight Hearing on NMFS Magnuson National Standards Implem

Location: Washington, DC

Statement of Senator John Kerry

Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard Oversight Hearing on NMFS Magnuson National Standards Implementation

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, DC - Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) submitted today for the record the following statement at the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard oversight hearing on NMFS Magnuson National Standards Implementation:

Good morning. I want to thank Chairman Snowe for holding today's very timely oversight hearing on NMFS' implementation of the National Standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).

Following passage of the 1996 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NMFS issued revised National Standard Guidelines to provide technical guidance to the Councils in developing fishery management plans. However, implementation of these National Standards has been inefficient and a number of problems have been identified. The primary concern is that the Guidelines have not allowed for the management flexibility intended by Congress. In particular, we need to take a hard look at how NMFS and the Councils have implemented two of the National Standards:

** National Standard 1, under which overfishing and rebuilding standards are set; ** National Standard 8, under which socio-economic effects on fishing communities are addressed.

These implementation issues have come to light in ports around the nation, but no where are they more acute than in New England, where NMFS and the New England Fisheries Management Council are under court order to develop a Magnuson-compliant management plan known as Amendment 13.

The development of Amendment 13 has been plagued by conflict, scientific controversy, delays, and overly-stringent and inconsistent interpretations of the 1996 law.

Throughout this time, New England has had to cope with significant environmental and economic instability. Overfishing has continued on certain stocks, and fishing communities have experienced an ever-changing set of management decisions that have contributed to economic stresses on fishermen and fishing-dependent communities. In real terms, that means commercial fishermen cannot implement even a two-year business plan because they do not know how, when or where they will be allowed to work in the fishery. This uncertainty extends to the multi-million dollar shore-side infrastructure and local economies. In these difficult economic times it is imperative that NMFS bring about a reasonable and stable management plan that will allow businesses - from the small boat entrepreneur to the national seafood processor - the opportunity to compete in the American and world marketplaces.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) calls for a balanced approach to fisheries management which is designed to sustain and grow this nation's fishing industry through necessary conservation and reasonable management measures. That means we must reduce fishing mortality to end overfishing and restore stocks to sustainable levels, but such reductions must be technically justified and effects on communities minimized to the greatest extent possible. Consistent with the conservation requirement to end overfishing, National Standard 8 mandates that management plans developed by the Councils and approved by NMFS take measures to provide for the sustained participation of fishing communities and minimize the adverse economic impacts of management measures on these cities and towns.

Nevertheless, NMFS' Draft Economic Impact Statement analyzing the four alternatives under consideration for Amendment 13 demonstrates that economic losses to vulnerable New England fishing communities were not specifically identified in the document - and thus, no mitigation measures are proposed. The analysis simply projected that, on a regional basis, each of the four alternatives before the Council would result in short-term economic and job losses, with surprisingly little economic or environmental net benefit over the long term. Massachusetts alone is expected to shoulder between 55 and 68 percent of all expected losses in income, revenues, and jobs in the region. Commercial fishing is an important economic engine in cities like New Bedford and Gloucester, where hundreds of jobs stand to be lost. Analyses provided by NMFS suggest that the "no action alternative" (representing 2001 fishing effort) could achieve more than 85 percent of the economic and biological benefits of any of the four alternatives. Analyses of 2002 fishing effort are expected to demonstrate even greater strides.

If this course is followed to its conclusion, Amendment 13 could require significant economic losses in certain communities with little future economic and conservation benefit today or tomorrow.

The 1996 revisions to the Act were not intended to result in a paper exercise plagued with unworkable rules; it was intended to result in better management and better decisions to benefit real people. We believed that successful management would involve measurable increases in biomass, smarter management, modern techniques, and increasing opportunities for our coastal communities. However, it is my view that NMFS is not fully taking advantage of the flexibility in the law, and that, in part, is the cause of our current problems in New England.

The MSA allows NMFS and the Councils sufficient flexibility to create a workable management plan for New England, so long as we ensure there will be an end to overfishing and return to sustainable stocks. I believe there is plenty of room for establishing common-sense rules under the Act. For example, the Senate unanimously approved my amendment to H.R. 1989 last Congress, which clarifies that the agency has the discretion to extend existing rebuilding timelines when new assessment information increases targets well above the previous goals - as long as overfishing does not occur and rebuilding progress continues. This is a rational interpretation of the Act that an expert agency can make, and we are glad to see that this approach is reflected in the Amendment 13 alternatives.

The MSA also provides plenty of room for Councils and the agency to develop a range and combination of reasonable management approaches that can both end overfishing and provide benefits to the fishery. These include multispecies management approaches that provide incentives for harvesting of plentiful stocks and avoiding vulnerable stocks, adaptive management rules to accommodate new information, community-based sector approaches, real-time reporting that will improve timeliness of stock information, and cooperative research to improve the quality and quantity of scientific information on our stocks.

The agency must work with the Councils to use the discretion afforded to it to meet the requirements of the law to both end overfishing and keep fishing communities strong. Any management plan must take account of the good work already done in New England, and target mitigation measures to the port communities at greatest risk of economic downturn as a result of NMFS' actions. In addition, I am concerned that fishermen have complained that NMFS has failed to provide oversight to ensure Council-designed management plans meet other National Standards (4 and 5). These standards require that management measures not discriminate among residents of different states; not have economic allocation as their sole purpose; and, if they result in allocation, that such allocation be fair and equitable. I believe this is an area that needs additional attention, or the future of the entire management and Council system will be called into question.

I thank Dr. Bill Hogarth for joining us to today in order to help us better understand NMFS' implementation of the MSA and to guide the agency in meeting its obligations to create a fair and responsible management plan for New England, and for fishing communities around the United States.

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