206. Incidental harvest research.

[MSFCMA section 405]


Summary:

By July 11, 1997, the Secretary must consult with the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils and conclude an information collection to assess the impact on fishery resources of incidental harvest by the shrimp trawl fishery with those Councils' authority. Before that date, the Secretary must also make available to the public aggregated summaries of information collected prior to June 30, 1994. Stocks of fish subject to significant incidental harvest in the course of "normal" shrimp trawling must be identified. For identified stocks, with priority for those that are overfished, the Secretary must: collect and evaluate information on the incidental mortality from shrimp trawling; assess the stocks' condition precisely enough to support sound scientific evaluation of various management alternatives; and collect and evaluate information on fishing mortality and effort by sources other than shrimp trawling. By October 11, 1997, the Secretary must complete a program to develop technology, devices, and changes in fishing operations to minimize bycatch mortality in shrimp trawls to the extent practicable, considering bycatch levels prior to November 28, 1990. The program must also evaluate ecological impacts and the costs and benefits of such devices and operational changes, and must assess whether utilizing unavoidable bycatch is practicable. Within one year of completion of the programs, the Secretary must report detailed results to Congress.

Issues:

Obviously Congress is concerned about the adequacy and quality of information upon which the Councils are addressing shrimp trawl bycatch issues. The South Atlantic Council has already submitted an amendment that will require the use of bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) to reduce weakfish and Spanish mackerel bycatch, and the Gulf Council took final action at its November 1996 meeting on a similar amendment to reduce red snapper bycatch in shrimp trawls. Note that the shrimp fishery, in the entire southeast, is one that occurs both in State and Federal waters. The State of Georgia, which implemented BRD requirements in response to an ASMFC plan, is currently defending a legal challenge to that requirement. The Gulf Council's efforts have generated a good deal of controversy. One association has hired consultants who challenge NMFS science and statistical methodology in computing levels of red snapper bycatch in shrimp trawls. Much of the information Congress has directed be completed in this section has already been collected.

Implementation criteria.


Summary:

This subsection requires consistency between bycatch reduction measures and measures applicable to fishing throughout the range of U.S. waters for the bycatch species. Such measures must also be consistent with the need to avoid serious adverse environmental impacts on bycatch species or the ecology of the affected area.

Legislative history:

The origin of this caveat was concern that turtle bycatch in shrimp trawls should be addressed on the Atlantic coast as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. Last summer, a shrimpers association began claiming that the language required identical bycatch measures in other countries' jurisdictions, which would have stymied Councils' efforts to control bycatch. Recreational fishermen interested in the red snapper fishery realized the implications of such an interpretation for rebuilding that stock, since juvenile red snapper are taken in the shrimp trawl fishery. The managers' amendment added the phrase "in United States waters" to modify "throughout the range," which solved part of the problem. In a dramatic move on the evening of September 18, as the Senate was poised to vote on S. 39, proceedings were suspended. Late-night negotiations between Senator Hutchison and other delegations resulted in adding the words "To the extent practicable" at the beginning of the subsection. Senator Shelby explained that the amendment "restores the necessary discretion to the Gulf Council" to adopt bycatch reduction programs. He said, "Without the Hutchison-Shelby amendment, the red snapper fishery will be closed, which will shut down recreational fishermen and a thriving charter boat industry." The amendment was adopted without a vote the following day.

Issues:

While the Gulf Council should take into consideration bycatch reduction measures (or lack thereof) applicable to bycatch species in U.S. waters outside its area of authority, the legislative history is clear that any inconsistencies should not keep the Council from adopting whatever measures it deems necessary.
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