Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Scientific Fishing

For the first time in a decade, the U.S. Congress has passed a bill substantively amending Federal fisheries legislation. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006 (H.R. 5946) will make several important changes to U.S. fishing law. In addition to making it mandatory for Regional Fishery Management Councils ("Councils") to end identified instances of overfishing within two years and to set specific catch limits, the new bill raises the profile and power of fisheries scientists and their considered advice.

Section 103 of the bill tightens the credentials one must possess to qualify as a scientist:
`(C) Members appointed by the Councils to the scientific and statistical committees shall be Federal employees, State employees, academicians, or independent experts and shall have strong scientific or technical credentials and experience.
Under the same section, Councils must
develop annual catch limits for each of its managed fisheries that may not exceed the fishing level recommendations of its scientific and statistical committee or the peer review process...
And, according to section 105, complete closures of marine areas to fishing must be based, among other criteria, on "on the best scientific information available".

Though the amendments could certainly have gone farther in ensuring that fishery management decisions are based on solid biological science (for example, by basing management decisions more at the biological community or ecosystem level, rather than the level of individual biological populations), Congress' actual amendments are good news, not only for marine biologists and conservationists, but for fish populations as well.

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