INTRODUCTION TO THE
HIGHLY MIGRATORY SPECIES
Most species found in Federal waters are managed by Fishery Management Councils. These Councils, through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), implement regulations for species in their area. However, highly migratory species (HMS) such as Atlantic tunas, swordfish, sharks, and billfish are different in that they are found throughout the Atlantic Ocean and must be managed on domestic and international levels. Due to these concerns, on November 28, 1990, the President of the United States signed into law the Fishery Conservation Amendments of 1990 (Pub. L. 101-627). This law accomplished many things including:
(1) amending the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act. This Act
is the primary domestic legislation for Federal fisheries;
(2) defining HMS to be tuna species, marlin (Tetrapturus spp. and Makaira spp.), oceanic sharks, sailfishes (Istiophorus spp.), and swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Tuna species are further defined as albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares);
(3) giving the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) the authority (effective January 1, 1992) to manage tuna in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea ( 16 U.S.C. 1811); and,
(4) transferring from the Fishery Management Councils to the Secretary, effective November 28, 1990, the management authority for the other HMS in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea (16 U.S.C. 1854(f)(3)).
At this time, the Secretary delegated authority to manage these Atlantic HMS to the NMFS. NMFS in turn created the HMS Management Division. This Division manages andregulates the Atlantic HMS fisheries within the United States.
In 1996, Congress amended the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act with the Sustainable Fisheries Act (Pub. L. 104-297, re-naming it the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act)), to require that NMFS establish advisory panels (APs) to assist in the development of FMPs and FMP amendments including those for Atlantic HMS. As a result, the HMS Management Division now has two APs (Billfish and HMS) to assist in the management of Atlantic HMS.
The 1996 re-authorization also included a new emphasis on the precautionary approach in U.S. fishery management policy. New provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act require managers to halt overfishing; to rebuild overfished fisheries; to minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality, to the extent practicable; and to identify and protect essential fish habitat. These provisions are coupled with the recognition that management of HMS requires international cooperation and that rebuilding programs must reflect traditional participation in the fisheries by U.S. fishermen, relative to foreign fleets.
Besides the Magnuson-Stevens Act, U.S. fisheries management must be consistent with the requirements of other regulations including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act, and other Federal laws. The Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic tunas, swordfish, and sharks and Amendment 1 to the Billfish Fishery Management Plan address the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, as well as the requirements of other applicable legislation, and incorporates the best available scientific information into Atlantic HMS management.
In 1966, the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas was signed. This Convention created the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) of which the United States is one of many member nations. ICCAT is the most influential international management body for Atlantic HMS. Every year, the scientific body of ICCAT conducts stock assessments on different species of Atlantic tunas, swordfish, and billfish. Based on the results of the stock assessments, member nations negotiate quotas and other management recommendations for these species. Ideally, the management recommendations rebuild overfished stocks and allow for sustainable fishing of these species across the Atlantic Ocean including the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. If these recommendations are adopted by ICCAT, under the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (16 U.S.C. 971), the United States must implement them. At this time, ICCAT does not regulate Atlantic shark species although assessments for some pelagic shark species are planned for 2004.
Other international agreements exist that could influence Atlantic HMS management such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and several bilateral agreements between the United States and Canada or Mexico. In February 1999, FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI) endorsed the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA). The IPOA builds on the FAO Code for Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, encompasses all elasmobranch fisheries, and calls on member nations to implement, voluntarily, the IPOA through a national plan of action. In February 2001, the United States released its Final National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA). The NPOA is consistent with the IPOA and the provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.