202. Registration and information management.

[MSFCMA section 401]


Summary:

This section mandates development of recommendations for a standardized fishing vessel registration and information system (but not establishment of the system itself). The concept is to integrate all vessel registration and data collection systems implemented by the Secretary (MSFCMA, MMPA, etc.) with State systems, to avoid duplication and minimize paperwork burdens. The recommendations are to include funding for non-Federal entities, establish standardized measurements and formats, encompass commercial and charter (but not recreational) fishing vessels, and consider confidentiality requirements. Registration under this section is not to be considered a permit; it cannot be sanctioned or conditioned. NMFS must consult with various governmental entities and NGOs in developing the recommendations. By October 11, 1997, NMFS is to publish a proposal for a 60-day comment period. The proposal must include any regulations or legislation necessary to implementation. Sixty days after the end of the comment period, the Secretary must submit to Congress a proposal for implementation of a vessel registration system. By January 11, 1998, the Secretary is to report to Congress on the need to include recreational fishing vessels in the system.

Legislative history:

This provision responds to testimony at hearings about increasing paperwork requirements. With the restrictions on conditioning or sanctioning registration, it appears to be a throw-back to an earlier philosophy that information submitted voluntarily is necessarily more accurate. The Senate report says "it is essential to promote voluntary participation in the system and to encourage fishermen to provide accurate and timely information without fear of financial penalties or restrictions on operations."

Issues:

Note that this provision does not require implementation of a registration system. Congress seems to have contemplated that additional legislation would be required before the system could be put in place. The restrictions on registration conditions and sanctions are problematic. If Congress meant to prohibit NMFS from issuing permits that can be sanctioned for failure to report data and other violations, it did not say so. Presumably fisheries managers and enforcers will not want to abandon that essential tool. Thus the registration system could end up duplicating existing permit systems, which would seem to defeat the intent to reduce paperwork burdens. This issue must be addressed in the recommendations.
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