September 10, 2013 –  An independent, peer-reviewed panel of scientific experts has found that “the benefits and costs of introducing more flexibility in determining the time to rebuild should be considered” by Congress when reauthorizing the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens).

The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is praising the report as an example of independent scientific advice which should be given serious consideration by Members of Congress.  On Wednesday, September 11, the House Natural Resources Committee will convene an oversight hearing in Washington DC Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization in 2013.

The new study from the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies entitled Evaluating the Effectiveness of Fish Stock Rebuilding Plans in the United States examines the ability of U.S. fisheries management to reduce overfishing in coastal fisheries, and officially finds that current stock rebuilding plansare not flexible enough to account for uncertainties in scientific data and environmental factors that are outside the control of fishermen and fisheries managers.

RFA has fought an uphill battle for Magnuson-Stevens reform since 2007, calling for incorporation of limited management flexibility, particularly to manage around rigid, arbitrary and unscientifically backed rebuilding deadlines.  RFA executive director Jim Donofrio calls the NRC report “vindication” for 7 years of rallies, demonstrations, and lobbying effort by the political action organization, but stopped short of saying ‘we told you so.’

“Even a few members of the national boating and tackle industry split with us on the flexibility issue, some of whom felt that by reasoning with groups like Pew Environment Group and the Environmental Defense Fund it would help keep the pressure off anglers,” Donofrio said.  “When the highest peer-view panel of experts in the country says arbitrary rebuilding deadlines have no conservation benefit and are actually damaging to our recreational sector, it proves anglers and business leaders are the ones who should be in the driver’s seat, with Pew folks attempting to reason with us.”

The comprehensive findings by NRC says strict rebuilding deadlines as written into Magnuson-Stevens sound good in highly charged political settings, but found they’re not entirely sensible, nor are they practical.  “Fish stock rebuilding plans are designed to achieve rapid rebuilding of biomass and spawning stocks consistent with the biological characteristics of the resource,” the NRC report states, adding “however, the requirement to rebuild within 10 years, if biologically possible, eliminates certain management options from consideration that could lead to greater social and economic benefits while still supporting stock recovery in the long run.”

In other words, adhering to a strict 10-year rebuilding timeframe for reaching rebuilding targets in fish stocks like cod or summer flounder may lead to vibrant fish populations, but it may also have serious negative impacts on the positive ‘socioeconomic’ impacts of fishing.

“The focus on trying to achieve a rebuilding target by a given time places unrealistic demands on the science and forces reliance on forecasts and estimates of biomass-based reference points, which maybe very uncertain,” the NRC report adds, ultimately calling the rigid timelines created by Congress not scientifically sound.

“The present approach may not be flexible or adaptive enough in the face of complex ecosystem and fishery dynamics when data and knowledge are limiting,” the report states.  “When discussing the goals and design of rebuilding plans in the future, the benefits and costs of introducing more flexibility in determining the time to rebuild should be considered so that new scientific information and socioeconomic tradeoffs can be more fully accounted for in rebuilding and community mitigation.”

Donofrio said the National Academy of Sciences’ latest findings proves that independent leaders in the scientific community believe that Magnuson-Stevens is inflexible given the dynamics of the natural world, and could rewording based on the socioeconomic importance of coastal fishing.

“The House Natural Resources Committee will be looking at the reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens this week at a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill, and these latest NRC findings should be a central focus of Congress as the deliberations move forward,” Donofrio said.  “When the showroom environmentalists attack the RFA position this week, they’ll also be attacking the National Academy of Sciences.”

The NRC is a private, nonprofit institution that provides expert advice – considered the top-level peer-review panel of experts in the United States today; their findings are trusted because the information is unbiased and fully independent.  All reports coming from the National Academies are viewed as credible because of the institution’s reputation for providing independent, objective, and non-partisan advice with high standards of scientific and technical quality.

It was a 2006 NRC panel reeport that showed that the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) incorporated fatally flawed methodology and was in need of comprehensive overhaul.  Specifically, NRC found “Both the telephone and access components of the current approach have serious flaws in design or implementation and use inadequate analysis methods that need to be addressed immediately.”

As a result, Congress included language in the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act calling on NOAA Fisheries begin using surveys that target anglers registered or licensed at the State or Federal level to collect participation and effort data, while also utilizing vessel trip report (VTR) data from charter fishing vessels.  The President’s signature required the Secretary of Commerce to complete this overhaul by 2009.

“NOAA Fisheries is still compiling angler data by calling phone numbers at random from coastal phone books, and they’re still ignoring volumes of VTR data required of many federally permitted charter and head boat operators,” Donofrio said.  “An angler contact sheet and VTR data are items one might call ‘best available science,’ yet our federal government continues to ignore its very existence.”

“The 2006 Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization made American fishermen ‘accountable’ to the point of economic collapse, but when a law be upheld in this country that actually makes our government accountable for their role in a broken system,” Donofrio said.  “NRC found the government data to be flawed, now they’ve reported that inflexible deadlines are destroying our coastal fishing industry, what more does Congress need to help us make a stand against ideologues, bureaucrats and a broken law?”

Click here to learn more about Wednesday’s hearing starting at 11 a.m. at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, DC.