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Recreational Fisheries Working Group

MAFAC Meeting April 2001


A PERSPECTIVE ON THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE: ISSUES AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Executive Summary

The federally mandated Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee is charged with advising the Secretary of Commerce on marine fisheries issues. This document was prepared by MAFAC to provide a brief summary of issues and recommendations that will provide guidance on actions needed to be taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), our nation’s primary fisheries agency.

Because of its broad representation of interests and geographic areas, MAFAC provides NMFS with an ideal opportunity to gauge public reaction to existing and proposed programs. The effectiveness of MAFAC has been limited by time commitments of its volunteer members and lack of inclusion of the MAFAC in policy formulation by NMFS. Clarification by the Secretary of when, where and how MAFAC would be involved in the development of NMFS policies would greatly increase the Committee’s usefulness.

Several programmatic areas were identified by MAFAC as having significance within NMFS and are discussed in this document along with recommendations for their enhancement.

    • Outreach is an area by which NMFS can involve constituents to help them understand the need for management of resources and to listen to their concerns. Insufficient external and internal communication and outreach are the basis for many of the problems faced by NMFS. Drastic improvements in credibility can be accomplished through concerted efforts to educate and inform the public and be educated and informed by the public.
    • Science is a major function of NMFS; however improvements need to be made in fostering cooperation, integration and synthesis among data gathering groups within NOAA and among states, universities and other NGO’s. Such cooperation would help to leverage the limited existing funds for data collection and analysis. In addition, NMFS must focus science efforts on delineating the quality and quantity of essential fisheries habitat; determining the efficacy of establishing Marine Protected Areas; integrating geophysical, biological, and social sciences to improve understanding of ecosystem-based fisheries management; and defining and developing measures that are needed to achieve sustainability.
    • Management of living marine resources is the most important responsibility and challenge facing the National Marine Fisheries Service, yet this important function of the agency is being driven by crisis and litigation. By integrating stakeholder views; investing in economic and social science; using interdisciplinary science; assessing its performance and correcting deficiencies; and valuing people, communications, and education, the agency’s ability to manage effectively would be enhanced.
    • Budget increases have occurred at NMFS over the last several years, yet it has not been readily apparent from agency budget documents how NMFS spends its money, what the various program accounts are for, or how to find specific programmatic expenditures, especially those most desired by constituents. Although NMFS has taken steps to improve its budget preparation and presentation and its relationships with constituents and the Hill, it needs to improve the responsiveness, flexibility and competitiveness of its budget.
    • Legislation is an area in which MAFAC can actively assist NMFS, but NMFS has generally not been willing to actively seek the advice of MAFAC before decisions are made. MAFAC should offer advice on legislation before it is presented to the Administrator of NMFS for review and approval and receive a response from the agency on its advice.

I. Introduction

This paper has been prepared by the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC), a diverse group of scientists, educators, fishermen, processors, conservationists, and fisheries professionals charged with advising the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) on marine fisheries issues. MAFAC members cover a broad spectrum of political affiliations, geographic locations, and professional knowledge and experience. All interact frequently with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in their personal and professional lives. All have seen the positive and negative aspects of NMFS and the complexity of issues with which the agency is faced. As a group, MAFAC members have demonstrated their ability to provide advice on many different aspects of fisheries science, management, and conservation, from marine reserves to vessel monitoring systems.

The initial concept for the paper was generated during discussions with Dr. D. James Baker, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. Dr. Baker suggested - and MAFAC agreed - that a brief summary of issues and problems, and recommendations on how to address those issues and problems would be helpful to the incoming administration. We present this paper in the hope that it will provide guidance on actions needed to be taken by our nation's primary fisheries agency.

II. Role of MAFAC

The Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC) was chartered under the Federal Advisory Committees Act on February 17, 1971. Federal Advisory Committees were established to advise officers and agencies in the executive branch of the Federal Government and furnish expert advice, ideas, and diverse opinions to the Federal Government. MAFAC is one of four established Federal Advisory Committees within NOAA. An additional Federal Advisory Committee on Marine Protected Areas will be established in 2001 by Executive Order 13158.

According to MAFAC’s charter 2, its principal duty is "to advise the Secretary of Commerce on all living marine resource matters that are the responsibility of the Department of Commerce." In doing so, MAFAC is required to:

"Draw on the expertise of its members and other appropriate sources such as NMFS to evaluate and recommend priorities and needed changes in national program direction. Its objective is to ensure that the Nation's living marine resource policies and programs meet the needs of commercial and recreational fishermen, and of environmental, consumer, academic, tribal, governmental, and other national interests."

Because of its broad representation of interests and geographic areas, MAFAC provides NMFS with an ideal opportunity to gauge public reaction to existing and proposed programs. Talking to MAFAC is the equivalent of talking to constituents.

To carry out its responsibilities, MAFAC has formed several standing and ad hoc committees with direction to examine and comment on various NMFS policies and functions. Often, NMFS staff assists these committees. Committee members have the capability of working in between regularly scheduled MAFAC meetings (usually two per year) and can provide in-depth assessments of pertinent topics. Committee recommendations are forwarded to the full MAFAC, discussed and - if need be - voted on, and a final report is transmitted to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, with copies provided to appropriate NMFS offices.

Unfortunately, there are two major problems with this system. The first derives from the way that MAFAC is structured. Because MAFAC members are essentially volunteers, work on MAFAC business outside the framework of our meetings is often difficult to achieve in a timely fashion. Members establish goals but these are not always carried through. With its geographically diverse membership, communication among members can be sporadic. Although MAFAC has made many positive contributions to NMFS, MAFAC is not always able to function in the most efficient or effective manner. MAFAC should internally examine priorities and establish a realistic workload schedule, recognizing that failure to follow up on commitments simply reduces any usefulness and functionality that MAFAC hopes to achieve.

The second problem involves utilization of MAFAC by NMFS. As a federally chartered advisory group, MAFAC should provide input into major policies and decisions of NMFS. However, too often such policies and decisions are developed by NMFS with no input from its own advisory committee, even when the advice provided in a timely manner would enhance NMFS' ability to build public support for its policies. Communication with MAFAC is - with some exceptions - virtually non-existent outside of meetings, even though such communication could be easily accomplished via the Internet or by including the MAFAC Secretariat (a NMFS employee) in appropriate meetings.

Our recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of MAFAC as an advisory group are as follows:

1. The Secretary should determine at what stage in the process MAFAC should be involved in the development of NMFS policies, with recognition that early involvement is better for everyone.

2. The Secretary should identify the key policy areas where MAFAC’s involvement and advice would be most effective and useful.

3. The Secretary, through the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, should make clear to all NMFS offices when, where, and how MAFAC will be involved, and routinely check to make sure that the desired level of involvement has been achieved.

III. Issues and Recommendations

The following are programmatic areas identified by MAFAC as having significance within NMFS. Each issue is discussed and followed by a list of recommendations provided by sub-committee work groups within MAFAC.

A. Outreach

Outreach is an area by which NMFS can involve constituents so that they understand the need for management of resources. It gives constituents an opportunity to participate in management decisions and allows them to assist in developing options to reach the goals of sustainable fisheries. It is the agency’s responsibility to respond in a timely manner to constituent concerns and to educate and inform them with understandable justifications for management decisions. Without these components of an outreach plan, an agency will lose its credibility and may be subjected to constant scrutiny and distrust. Breakdowns in communication can occur within the agency to further complicate the ability to reach constituents. Lawsuits and misinformation are consequences of such failure to communicate and interact with individuals both inside and outside the agency. While there is no quick fix, drastic improvements in credibility can be accomplished through concerted efforts to educate and inform the public as well as listen to the public.

The Outreach Working Group has concluded that insufficient external and internal communication and outreach are the basis for many of the problems faced by NMFS. Consequently, MAFAC proposes that a centralized outreach program should receive priority funding in the NMFS budget. Although there appears to be an outreach effort in several departments throughout NMFS, a central outreach office should be established and maintained as a clearinghouse to monitor the different programs and results.

Specific recommendations from MAFAC are as follows:

1. When hiring new NMFS employees, the agency needs to consider good listening and communication skills, service and outreach abilities that enable effective interaction with constituents. Those individuals already in service should receive training on improvement in communication. Every NMFS employee is a potential ambassador to the public. Additionally, the agency should strive to hire specialists in each major field, regionally or nationally, who have strong scientific backgrounds as well as good communication skills. The ability to communicate science in an understandable manner is a key element in success of many of the agency’s initiatives and policy. If constituents don't have a clear explanation and understanding of scientific endeavors and their rationale, then it is unlikely that they will trust the science or the agency promoting the science. Research/policy translation and explanation should be the foundation of any successful outreach program, and can assist the agency in coordinating research results and delivering information to the public.

2. A critical need repeatedly identified by MAFAC was establishment of internal tracking capability to provide timely and accurate responses to constituent communications. We understand General Counsel for Fisheries is using improved software to help track projects, documents and ongoing communications. We would suggest that this software be tested in other areas to ensure timely communications from NMFS. By responding in a timely manner to constituents, the agency will build trust and respect. The agency also needs to establish a process by which a communication plan is included with every major fishery regulation for use in all communications relevant to the action.

3.The agency needs to encourage and train local NMFS representatives to visit the docks and talk to the harvesters and processors. By reaching out to the fishing community on its own turf, there would be improvement in developing a mutual trust with NMFS.

4. A national constituent database needs to be assembled and used by the outreach program. As a starting point, we recommend that builders of the database contact regional fishery management council offices for their lists of constituents and organizations.

5. Scientific and statistical documents need to be summarized, translated and made available on a level that is understandable by the general public. Providing understandable information (e.g. equivalents to the metric system and giving a brief explanation of how and why scientific formulas are used) would eliminate the perception that the agency is obscuring information behind scientific jargon. NMFS needs to work with constituent groups in planning and timing of release for these documents.

6.  The agency needs to develop an intra-web-centralized resource of information that is user friendly and interactive. Inviting people to comment on issues will give the agency tremendous feedback on what is important to the public. Although a well-designed and informative web page will be a useful tool, it should be used as a supplement to and not a replacement for personal contact and interaction. A well-designed web page would provide a place for the public to go for neutral science-based information on the status of the nation's fisheries, while those decisions are being made. The web page would be an excellent format for explanations and examples of overfishing, how management plans work and why they are necessary.

Suggested components for this site include:

  • The capability to identify what pages are visited most often.
  • A section for children that helps them understand the issues of resource use and benefits of sustainability.
  • A search engine and section devoted to publications and documents. This section could hold central repositories of publications, draft documents being worked on by teams, as well as information and decision points that coincide with Federal Register activities. Documents such as Our Living Oceans and Fishery Statistics should be treated as living documents on the web site and updated for more timely information.
  • A section that informs constituents on status of stocks that are managed and includes information on those stocks that are recovering, those that are making progress and those which are not.

7. Internally, there is a need to reunify and coordinate the various programs of NMFS to enhance effectiveness of programs. It is unclear whether sustainable fisheries, protected species, and essential habitat all are working on coordinated, unified efforts, even within regions.

8. NMFS needs to take advantage of opportunities for research, communication, education and data collection offered by States, other agencies, universities, the private sector and constituents, especially when resources are not available to meet the needs of the agency. This would improve the quality and quantity of available data, including but not limited to socio-economic data that may be used to determine economic impacts of management options. Developing partnerships is critical to making any outreach program work. The NMFS should work with its constituents to explore mechanisms to involve all stakeholders as real partners.

B. Science

From an overall scientific perspective, NMFS must be a leader in fostering cooperation, integration, and synthesis of critical information among international, federal, state, tribal, and NGO organizations; research institutions; and university programs in marine and atmospheric sciences. NMFS, together with other federal agencies, should facilitate implementation (or in some cases ratification) of international agreements and treaties. On the domestic side, NMFS should support the implementation of programs such as the U.S. Global Ocean Observing System as a means to connect regional marine monitoring programs nation-wide. NMFS must emphasize cooperation among data gathering groups as a means to leverage the limited existing funds for data collection and analysis and NMFS absolutely must make headway in the integration of geophysical and biological sciences to improve understanding for ecosystem-based fisheries management. Great potential exists to synthesize existing historical biological and geophysical data to clearly explain to the public, the industry, and Congress which fishery management measures are necessary and why.

To maintain and restore marine fisheries, several intimately associated issues must be integrated into the workings at all levels of NMFS. At the very least these are:

Define and Delineate Essential Marine Habitats

Two key subthemes to address on this issue are determining essential marine habitats and establishing marine protected areas. Marine habitat will be a major consideration when the Magnuson-Stevens Act is re-authorized; however, overly broad definitions of marine habitats will likely be criticized and should be avoided in the legislative process. Specifically, during the first iteration, the tendency was to define essential marine habitat as "all marine waters within the geographic range of the species," which begged the questions of how and why a species, its predators, and prey are associated with a particular water mass or geologic feature. We learned a great deal over the past few years about the ramifications of legal habitat definitions and the problems with implementing these types of definitions in fishery management. NMFS must take the lead in delineating the quantity and quality of essential habitat, including those in freshwater and estuarine areas. It will be critical to determine which habitats are rare or endangered and direct efforts at their conservation or restoration.

Furthermore, by more appropriately defining and delineating "marine habitat," the justification for and establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) will be clarified. MAFAC believes that MPAs are and will continue to be a significant issue in marine fishery management. NMFS must take the lead in determining how MPAs are best defined and what are the criteria and data needed to identify them. To accomplish this, NMFS should implement the four major recommendations that MAFAC provided in 1999 involving staffing, information synthesis, development of coherent guidelines, and collaboration. 3 That recommendation listed 16 action items aimed at eliminating what MAFAC perceives as a substantial disconnect between scientists, managers, and stakeholders in the process of creating and enforcing MPAs.

Define and Practice Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

Sufficient evidence exists to indicate that there is a need to manage habitat and ecosystems, rather than individual species, in a manner that insures that marine life is supported. Available scientific data indicate that management of single species for sustained yield can be inappropriate (e.g., Steller sea lion, Pacific salmon, cod stocks off New England). Even if a managed species remains productive or abundant, there are serious questions about the costs to other species in the same food web. A major shift in agency paradigm is required to accomplish ecosystem-based fisheries management. The key subthemes involved in realizing this change are marine biodiversity, data collection and analysis, and leverage of funding. NMFS must facilitate the various Fishery Management Council efforts to forge and implement definitions of "ecosystem-based management." To accomplish this multidisciplinary type of management, interactions among species, among fisheries and species, and among climate-ocean regimes and species have potential consequences that need to be addressed. This, in turn, requires adequate knowledge of marine biodiversity. Unfortunately, NMFS' ability to evaluate either the scale or the consequences of changes in marine biodiversity due to human activity (e.g., determining land use effects on anadromous fish communities) is seriously compromised by the inadequacy of current knowledge of the basic biological and geophysical patterns and processes that influence the distribution of marine life. To address these basic needs, cooperative programs such as the International Coral Reef Initiative, the NMFS Systematics Laboratory Marine Biodiversity Data Base, and US Fish and Wildlife Service's Biodiversity program should be refined and expanded. Omissions in the NMFS biological, sociological, economic, and physicochemical databases also can be addressed through RFPs and collaborations. For example, collaboration with the NOS Ecological Forecasting Program could link water quality and habitat degradation with changes in fish and invertebrate populations. Important biological data needs include evaluating status, ranges, and metapopulation patterns for non-salmonid fishes (e.g., walleye pollock, Pacific groundfish, and menhaden), shellfish, zooplankton, and coastal macrophyte communities.

Clearly, the necessary biogeophysical analyses will require substantial changes in the way NMFS treats prior data and gathers and analyzes new data. Most likely this will involve an inventory of existing data sets and collecting and analyzing more data as well as different kinds of data. NMFS must have better fishery dependent and independent data to determine stock status. Fishery-dependent data provide critical information on fishing effort, fishing mortality, catch size and age, and as such, will continue to be needed. Where appropriate, fishery-independent data could provide information for conducting assessments, for determining species associations, and for determining the distribution of bottom habitats associated with fish. In conjunction with data on stocks, NMFS must broaden usage of remote data collection (e.g., remote buoys for collecting data transferable via satellite uplinks), which can be accomplished for a fraction of the cost of collecting such data by vessel. Furthermore, although the acquisition of data has become cheaper and faster, specific efforts must be aimed at identifying relevant patterns and processes indicated within these large data sets - operations that can be expensive and require expertise in data mining and bio-informatics. Thus, to bring about a shift to ecosystem-based fisheries management, NMFS must create the technology infrastructure for collecting biological and geophysical data at the appropriate temporal and spatial scales needed to address process issues. In addition, NMFS must refine long-term biological data sets, and initiate multidisciplinary programs on a nation-wide basis that include geophysical and climatic data where necessary. To accomplish this, NMFS should take the lead in fostering collaboration with other scientists to analyze the cumulative data sets within NOAA, International Commissions, and other agencies in terms of species-species interactions and climatic forcing of biological production in relation to fisheries. All of these steps are necessary to enhance our ability to perceive marine communities in a broader more integrated manner, thereby enabling us to utilize marine resources sustainably.

Develop a definition and set of expectations for sustainable fishing

Establishment of the NMFS Office of Sustainable Fisheries was a significant first step in achieving sustainable use of marine resources. However, the agency has yet to develop for public use, in understandable terms, an outline of what NMFS considers to be the definition of a "sustainable fishery" and the measures that are needed to achieve sustainability. Although many definitions exist, both legal and scientific, the average person has trouble deciding what sustainable fishing means and what NMFS expects from fisheries managers, scientists, and users. MAFAC's Multidisciplinary Science Subcommittee suggests that NMFS begin the process by selecting and offering a simple definition for stakeholder and interagency comment such as "A sustainable fishery is one that maintains its population in spite of fishing effort and natural processes." Developing a commonly agreed upon definition and set of expectations will enhance fisheries science, conservation, and management. Because both fishing and non-fishing activities affect the viability of marine populations and communities, the definition of sustainability will require invocation of subthemes including aquaculture, transgenics, non-indigenous species, gear effects, jobs, sociological impacts, intergenerational equity, subsistence, artisinal fishing, and international agreements.

Enhance Partnerships and Credibility

In each of the above topics, MAFAC recommends that NMFS not necessarily expand its own activities, but rather, seek and secure effective partnerships with other agencies to fill the indicated needs. Inter- and intra-agency collaborations must be ardently pursued to address peripheral matters that have dramatic effects on marine fisheries. The major subthemes include: data collection and analysis, marine biodiversity initiatives, aquaculture, marine protected areas, marine mammals, and bio-geophysical interactions. Ultimately, because of its insular nature, the credibility of NMFS with both the fishing industries and the environmental community is at stake. Concern over the agency’s credibility arises from the perception that NMFS-derived scientific data and analyses are not given adequate weight during decision making by the Councils. NMFS should vigilantly promote the idea that the Fishery Management Councils must consider more carefully and make better use of NMFS reports and scientific expertise, particularly with regard to balancing and validating views expressed by fishing industries.

In summary, recommendations from MAFAC on science issues are:

  1. NMFS must take the lead as the major science agency that delineates the quantity and quality of essential habitat. It will be necessary to determine which habitats are rare or endangered and direct efforts at their conservation or restoration. NMFS should direct research towards understanding how critical habitats may impact fishery stocks.
  2. NMFS must take the lead in determining the efficacy of establishing Marine Protected Areas and work cooperatively with conservation, recreational, and commercial fishing groups to determine criteria and gather data needed for their identification and rationale for implementation. To accomplish this, NMFS should implement the four major recommendations that MAFAC provided in 1999 involving staffing, information synthesis, development of coherent guidelines, and collaboration.
  3. NMFS must broaden its focus from single-species management to "ecosystem-based management". To accomplish this multidisciplinary type of management, NMFS must create the technology infrastructure for collecting biological and geophysical data at the appropriate temporal and spatial scales needed to address stock status and process issues. In addition, NMFS must refine long-term biological data sets, initiate multidisciplinary programs in partnership with other agencies, and expand these programs to include geophysical and climatic data where necessary.
  4. NMFS must develop for public use, in understandable terms, a definition of a "sustainable fishery" and the measures that are needed to achieve sustainability.
  5. NMFS must seek and secure effective partnerships with other agencies and constituents to fill the indicated needs. The complex nature of many of the issues facing our nation’s fisheries necessitates that NMFS work in a collaborative fashion with other state and federal agencies, as well as the academic and private sector. The primary mechanism by which this should be accomplished is to make program funds available to collaborative groups via internships, fellowships and grant programs. This would help ease staffing concerns that occur as agency personnel retire, could result in more efficient use of personnel budgets and resources, and make equipment and staff from collaborating institutions available to the agency.

C. Management

Wise management of the use and enjoyment of living marine resources is the most important responsibility and challenge facing the National Marine Fisheries Service. The complexity of the challenge stems from:

  • multi-jurisdictional and legal responsibility for conservation and management decisions;
  • conflicting and ever-changing legal mandates;
  • lack of data and inadequate scientific capabilities;
  • lack of a coherent process to respond to NMFS issues;
  • internal conflicts over the role and responsibility of science and management;
  • lack of coordination at both intra- and inter-agency levels; and
  • inadequate external communication.

Management is being driven by crisis and litigation and there is no general agreement or commonly held view on what constitutes good management. Furthermore, the continued addition of new responsibilities and tasks from a variety of sources without the support to carry them has lessened the agency’s ability to manage effectively.

To address these issues and avoid having the agency fail in its overall mission, MAFAC makes the following recommendations:

    1. Stakeholder involvement must be a primary objective of NMFS, not only in importance but also in sequence. The agency must do a better job of interacting with its constituents. The regional fishery management councils provide a good, albeit not perfect, example of stakeholder involvement.
    2. Accountability for agency actions and decisions must be established and the agency must find a way to identify mistakes and correct them. Constituents need to know where to go to get answers.
  1. Science is important and should both inform and be integrated into management decisions. Throughout its history, NMFS has vacillated between separating science and management and integrating the two. A majority of MAFAC members believe that integration at every step in the management process is key, rather than having science and management proceed on separate tracks and be joined only at the moment of final decision.
  2. The transition team should carefully examine the legal mandates and structure of the agency, intra- and inter-agency relationships, and leadership training to ensure that NMFS does a better job of integrating stakeholder views; using interdisciplinary science, including the social sciences; assessing its performance and correcting deficiencies; and valuing people, communications, and education.
  3. NMFS should establish basic policies on such issues as capacity reduction, vessel monitoring, and aquaculture to discourage adoption of ad hoc policies driven more by politics than an agreed-upon process and strategic vision.
  4. The leaders of the agency should incorporate the following qualities and experience:
      1. Above all, listen;
      2. Value and utilize collaboration and cooperation;
      3. Be builders and agents for positive change; and
      4. Recognize the needs of individuals while keeping in mind the agency mission.
      5. Understand the process of public policy formulation and implementation.

D. Budget

The National Marine Fisheries Service has been the beneficiary of several years of budget increases. From FY 1994 to FY 2001 the agency budget for base programs has increased from approximately $230 million to $518 million.

Despite these increases, the agency remains strapped for the people and dollars to do its fundamental jobs in science and management. Numerous reasons have been cited over the years for this gap in resources. This section provides MAFAC’s views on why and how to close the gap. The views are based on discussions with the MAFAC Budget Subcommittee and the entire MAFAC during the period March 1999 to October 2000.

In March 1999, MAFAC identified five principles that NOAA Fisheries should consider when developing budgets and allocating its resources, and has worked with legislative and budget liaison staff through several meetings to evaluate response to these principles.

A frequent complaint about the NMFS budget, on the part of constituents and their representatives on Capitol Hill, is that it has not been readily apparent from agency budget documents how NMFS spends its money, what the various program accounts are for, or how to find specific programmatic expenditures, especially those most desired by constituents. NMFS would be more accountable to its constituents by showing that the budget is linked to long-term strategic and current management needs and also by integrating their issues and concerns into the base, rather than rejecting them every year.

The agency has undertaken several efforts to address this problem including a base inventory project; a restructuring of the budget documents to show the connection between expenditures, projects, programs, activities and the NMFS Strategic Plan; and an independent budget review that was completed in July. Other efforts to make the budget understandable to appropriators and constituents included the production of budget fact sheets, highlights, and other briefing materials, as well as organization of the budget request by thematic issues, major initiatives, cover programs, base funding, and strategic plan objectives.

Despite these strides, questions still remain. In the FY 2001 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Conference Committee Report, the appropriation contains an unasked $750,000 for a study of NMFS programs, budgetary requirements, management and constituent relations. Appropriators want the National Academy of Sciences to look into the agency and the American Society of Public Accountants to examine its budgeting practices.

This dissatisfaction in the Congress is fueled by constituents who don’t believe they are getting their money’s worth from NMFS, and go straight to the Hill with specific project requests that find their way into the budget as "ear marks," one of the major causes of the gap between dollars and action.

The erosion of the NMFS base budget over the past 5 to 6 years is related in large degree to the continued insertion of ear-marks, specific line items for projects that either call for pass through monies or grants to external entities, or expenditure by NMFS for specific project work rather than discretionary increases. These activities and the money to conduct them arise from constituent lobbying for work they don’t (or can’t) see that the agency is providing. Often these activities are related to an immediate management crisis: lack of credible stock assessment information or decline of a protected species, or similar events that cause managers to restrict fishing. Although occasionally these line-item inserts are in the nature of "pork," in most cases the kind of work requested is just what the agency is supposed to be doing: conducting stock assessments, doing population surveys, creating recovery plans.

But rather than incorporate the specific projects into its base, each year NMFS eliminates the ear-marks in its budget request. And each year Congress restores them. Not only does this have the effect of continually shrinking the base in order for the budget cap to accommodate the earmarks, it creates the impression that the agency is rejecting the advice of Congress and constituents to conduct the particular activity. It calls up the predictable response: "if you’d just do what we asked you to, we wouldn’t have to add the line items." Over the years, this swapping of line-item projects for basic operations has meant the agency is unable to conduct the activities mandated by its underlying mission, and has insufficient funds for the most fundamental administrative costs such as rent and salaries. It also leaves constituents with the view that NMFS is unresponsive.

Work to increase interactions with the councils, MAFAC, and constituent groups on the budget is laudable and should continue. The use of objectives and performance measures to compare activities with the Strategic Plan and assess whether the job is getting done are good management tools, but are not widely recognized by constituent groups or evident in the budget presentation and structure. Although the budget fact sheets have gone a long way toward clearly showing what the agency is doing and what is behind the request, it would help to have a set of much more specific regional briefing sheets that are structured in a Problem/Solution/Money Spent/Outcome format to show constituents that money and action had some result on an issue they cared about.

The budget shortfalls caused by the substitution of earmarks for general operations are exacerbated by increasing demands. Some of these cannot be anticipated—for example the exponential increase in litigation costs—but some would not be so dire if the NMFS budget contained sufficient flexibility to respond to changing management needs such as the additional information required by the MSFCMA and operational demands like rent increases or salary hikes.

In summary, in the year and a half since MAFAC has provided advice on budget matters to the agency, NMFS has taken steps to improve its budget preparation and presentation, and its relationships with constituents and the Hill. These are worthwhile efforts and should continue. However, the serious problem of the gap between resources and mandates remains. It cannot be resolved by better accounting practices or more information. The way the agency deals with ear-marks is, in our view, a fundamental policy choice and goes to the principles of strategic linkage, accountability and flexibility.

MAFAC’s recommendations for improving the responsiveness, flexibility and competitiveness of the NMFS budget are:

1. When developing, presenting and describing the agency’s budget request, use the following principles:

  • Transparency - Is it clear what is and what is not being funded, and what are the results or outcomes of spending money on those items and activities?
  • Strategic Linkage - Is the budget addressing those activities that will effectively answer management needs now and over the long term?
  • Accountability - Is the agency spending the funds correctly and getting results that are effective in meeting management needs?
  • Flexibility - Does the budget allow the agency to address unexpected needs?
  • Competitiveness - Is the budget competitive within NOAA, the Department of Commerce, at OMB and on the Hill?
  • Representativeness - Is there adequate representation of existing programs and their costs?

2. The agency should begin, with preparation of the FY2002 budget, to integrate into its base those ear-marks that are consistent with its authorized activities and programs and part of the basic mission.

3. In developing the initiatives for FY2002 or the budget request for FY2003, the new administration should consider the following themes that MAFAC has identified as priorities:

 

a. Improving the Information Base for Fisheries Conservation and Management

  • Implement and strengthen cooperative fishery dependent data programs
  • Diversify fishery independent data collection by working with constituency partners (states, industry, NGOs)
  • Continue procurement of new dedicated fishery research vessels
 

b. Linking Research with Management Needs

  • Increase socio-economic research and data analysis
  • Increase capability to collect basic resource information (stock assessments, biological information)
  • Increase and improve integration of environmental information affecting fish and marine mammal populations
  • Improve and expand observer and logbook programs
  • Expand use of MOUs and other agreements with affected states and tribes to provide access to and exchange of agency technology, data and research
 

c. Serving Constituents

  • Improve public communication and outreach
  • Increase understanding and effective participation in fishery management processes through education
  • Expand involvement of fishermen in data gathering
  • Develop avenues of communication with state and tribal managers to solicit views on priority problems, successful approaches and needs
 

d. Protecting Habitat

  • Develop relationships of habitat to species that incorporates scientific information provided by state-tribal-federal and other groups
  • Complete identification and analysis of essential fish habitat
  • Provide resources sufficient to respond to activities that affect essential fish habitat.

E. Legal / Legislative

MAFAC's standing Committee on Legislation was established for the purposes of reviewing legislative proposals, determining what (if any) issues MAFAC should debate, and framing advice for the Secretary. MAFAC can make positive contributions in formulating agency views on legislation because of its wide array of expertise in living marine resource issues.

MAFAC's ability to help shape public policy in the legislative arena is limited by its charter that directs MAFAC to provide advice to the Secretary (only). MAFAC cannot be a lobbying tool for any sector or interest group, its views are advisory in nature and therefore discussions and opinions expressed by MAFAC members are unencumbered from other agendas. As a general proposition, MAFAC is a diverse group of professionals willing to invest their time in working with the Secretary to improve legislative proposals but, in order to take full advantage of this resource, the Secretary must be willing to engage MAFAC and consider its advice.

In the area of legislation, it is all too often the case that NMFS simply reports to MAFAC on the status of various bills pending before Congress or provides MAFAC with copies of Administration proposals after the agency has made decisions and taken positions on various matters. Up to this point NMFS has generally not been willing to actively seek the advice of MAFAC before decisions are made. The one recent notable exception was the agency's request for advice from MAFAC at the San Diego meeting on draft legislation concerning aquaculture. When MAFAC received this request, the Legislative Committee spent two full days reviewing the draft bill and framing issues for full committee debate. As a whole, MAFAC discussed and took positions on issues raised by the bill and provided the agency with very detailed and technical comments. The agency seemed pleased at the outcome and MAFAC was pleased that it could actually fulfill its role in providing meaningful advice. Unfortunately, the bill has not been a high priority and the Administration has not yet transmitted it to Congress.

At the Charleston, S.C. meeting, the Legislative Committee decided (independent of the agency) that it would debate the issue of individual transferable quotas, as this was a major issue in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. What resulted was a position paper approved by MAFAC capturing its' views and advice on this important national issue. Interestingly, while the Secretary appears to not have considered these views, a recent bill introduced in the Senate reflects many of the concepts contained in the MAFAC paper.

When the agency is willing to involve MAFAC in formulating views and positions on legislation, MAFAC has shown that it can more than meet the challenge. Because many legislative issues are politically charged, however, we believe the Secretary chooses to not involve MAFAC for fear of leaks or political embarrassment. Regrettably, this behavior undermines the principle mission of MAFAC to provide advice to the Secretary and renders MAFAC just another "constituent group", as opposed to a federally chartered advisory body. Unless the Secretary is willing to engage MAFAC in developing legislative positions and proposals, MAFAC will not be able to fulfill its advisory duties.

Other parts of this document make recommendations for administrative or policy changes that might require legislative change. MAFAC urges the agency to use the process set out above to discuss these specific issues as they arise. These recommendations are aimed at helping the Secretary achieve NMFS statutory mission as steward of America's living marine resources. Unless this or a similar process is adopted, MAFAC will be unable to lend it's considerable expertise to the agency, thereby not meeting its' charter mission.

Therefore, it is recommended that:

  1. Early each year the Secretary establishes a priority list of those legislative issues on which it expects MAFAC involvement. MAFAC will then determine how best to proceed in considering any or all of these issues.
  2. In the development of draft administration legislative proposals, MAFAC should be consulted before legislation is presented to the Administrator of NMFS for review and approval. If confidentiality is a concern, MAFAC can develop procedures to ensure that sensitive materials are not made public.
  3. Once MAFAC provides advice to the Secretary, the appropriate agency personnel should respond to this advice and explain the reasons for accepting or rejecting MAFAC views.

IV. Summary and Conclusions

The National Marine Fisheries Service has had a long history of scientific and management oversight of the Nation’s fisheries. During that history, NMFS has made many positive contributions; however, the complexity of fisheries issues in modern times has provided a number of challenges and problems for the agency.

MAFAC believes that our fisheries conservation and management system is malfunctioning but is not irreparable. The in-coming administration can do a great deed if it can understand the issues and fix the problems that exist within the agency. The Department of Commerce needs to provide NMFS with the direction and support that it needs to manage the Nation’s fisheries. This document has identified many of the major impediments within the agency for meeting the information needs necessary for effective fisheries management. Because of the wide range of jurisdictions, laws, regulations, available resources involved in collecting fisheries data and managing fisheries, a cooperative program operating on a regional basis and including appropriate parties at the university, state, interstate, and federal level, would be most appropriate and most effective. Without the necessary scientific information, management will be hard pressed to develop measures that can maximize habitat protection and conservation of fish stocks while allowing fishing at optimal levels.

The problem of obtaining adequate scientific information for management decisions will likely increase in the future as management moves towards alternative approaches, such as property-rights-based management (including Individual Transferable Quotas), habitat-based management, multi-species management, and ecosystem management. The issues of bycatch and recovery of protected species are particularly challenging for both science and management. In order for NMFS meet these challenges of modern fisheries management, the agency needs to:

  1. Set a course by clearly articulating policies and direction of the agency. If science and management are the components of NMFS, then the agency needs to decide how to effectively integrate these components through clearly understood and well-defined policies.
  2. Be accountable for outcome of its policies and direction.
  3. Talk to its constituents and listen to their concerns.
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