For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
The U.S. is imposing new catch limits on both commercial and recreational fishing. The rules will apply to more than 500 species of fish and are the result of a multi-year effort on the part of lawmakers from both parties, environmentalists, and some industry representatives. Supporters claim the overall program is an enormous achievement that will help sustain many fish populations for years to come. But there are critics: The limits, they say, will be based on inaccurate and out-of-date data and exclude critical forage fish and habitats. In addition, some who depend on fishing for their livelihoods say they’ll suffer: Please join us for a conversation on the effort to preserve U.S. fisheries
- Vito Giacalone chairman,governmental affairs, Northeast Seafood Coalition
- Jim Donofrio Recreational Fishing Alliance
- John Connelly president, National Fisheries Institute
- Eric Schwaab assistant administrator for fisheries,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Juliet Eilperin environmental reporter, The Washington Post, and author of " Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. is taking a bold step to preserve fisheries. For the first time ever, there'll be catch limits on all 526 species of fish managed by the federal government. The program has been widely praised, but there are some who question if it strikes the right balance between environmental and economic concerns.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about preserving U.S. fisheries: Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, Eric Schwaab of NOAA -- that's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- and John Connelly of the National Fisheries Institute. Of course, you are always to welcome to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. JULIET EILPERINGood morning.
MR. JOHN CONNELLYGood morning.
MR. ERIC SCHWAABGood morning.
REHMEric Schwaab, if I could start with you, there've been catch quotas before, but this seems to be far broader with far more reach. Give us an overview.
SCHWAABThank you, Diane. It's a pleasure to be here.
SCHWAABSo, as you said, the story is the completion of catch limits to put in place for all federally managed fisheries. The benefit of this is, of course, it sets the stage to end overfishing, to rebuild depleted stocks and to ensure sustainable management of fisheries at -- in federal waters for the foreseeable future. This is obviously important to us currently, both economically and environmentally, but it's also important that we manage these fisheries sustainably to ensure the same benefits for future generations.
REHMIs there to be a scientific allocation of what is caught?
SCHWAABSo one of the other underlying issues, of course, is both in the reauthorization of this law. The Congress mandated that the fishery management councils who make these decisions regionally follow the best available science. There is an incredibly wealthy knowledge behind many of these management decisions and just a great fishery science that happens both within the agency and with partner agencies and organizations. But, obviously, maintaining the best science over the long-term to inform the most effective catch limits continues to be a challenge going forward.
REHMOK. So you're using the best science, but how do you determine what level marks sustainability in each of these 526 species?
SCHWAABSo these are levels that, basically, the stocks of fish can sustain on a continuing basis. In some respects, this is akin to a bank account. So if you have depleted stocks, they can produce, on a sustainable basis, fewer fish. If you rebuild the stocks, you rebuild the account. You can produce more fish over time on a sustainable basis. Now, the ocean is complicated. The environment is complicated, so it's not as simple as that. And understanding both the current level of those stocks as well as long their long-term productive capacity is a continuing challenge in science.
REHMSo what then does the government do when a certain species falls below that "sustainable level?"
SCHWAABSo that's the crux of this mandate, which is to, first, set catch limits based on the best available science. And those are set not only by government scientists but with participation from scientists at the state level, from academic institutions and work of fishery management councils around the country. But then there is also a provision that puts in place accountability measures. So if we fall below -- or if we exceed those catch limits, then measures kick in that ratchet back fishing activity either commercially or recreationally or, in some cases, both.
REHMAnd, final question, how many inspectors do you have out there to validate what fisherman say or -- you know, there are so many fisheries in this country. How in the world do you count and make sure you have an accurate count?
SCHWAABSo there are a number of different facets to that. We do what we call fishery independent surveys. We spent last year in 80 different surveys over 3,000 days at sea directly surveying the status of populations. At the same time, with commercial fishermen, we have observers who spent time actually at sea on the boats. And that's a fairly common part of the commercial management approach where there are independent observers on boats.
REHMSounds to me -- so you're going to have to have an awful lot of government employees on boats?
SCHWAABWell, the observers are, in some cases, government employees. In some cases, the requirement of the fishery imposes on the commercial industry itself independent contractors who provide that same service.
REHMEric Schwaab of NOAA. Turning to you, John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, do you agree with these preservation efforts?
CONNELLYOf course, Diane, no one cares more about the sustainability of a fish stock than those that make their livelihood from fishing. So -- and there was a significant debate five years ago in the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization, and that's the law that governs our fisheries in this country. The call for overfishing was decided by Congress, and Eric and his team at NOAA fisheries have done what the government has asked, or Congress has asked, and implemented or begun rules that will stop overfishing.
CONNELLYAnd the key for the fishing industry and the fishing communities are -- or is that the work must be done on a sound science basis, that the -- so we call strongly for additional funding for NOAA to make sure that the science is done well, is done accurately and is done regularly because, without sound science or good data upon which to make decisions, then there'll constantly be arguments, and potentially litigation, in the future, which is unfortunate.
REHMDo you believe there is going to be additional or sufficient funding to carry this out?
CONNELLYWell, listening to your programs in other days, Diane, there's a debate about funding in the government. But for the seafood community, what's essential is that NOAA have enough funding to do the kind of surveys that allowed NOAA fisheries to understand how much fish is out there, how much fish is caught, how much can be caught in the future to find that point at which we want to provide enough food for healthy diet for Americans but also keep enough fish for future.
REHMJust for my sake and for our listeners' sake, give us an idea just how big the commercial fisheries industry actually is.
CONNELLYMaybe by anecdote, it might be easier. If anyone's gotten a beautiful fish sandwich or a fish stick or enjoyed something at a restaurant, they're probably eating pollock, and that's an Alaska fishery. It's a white fish, very mild tasting, but you can do a lot with it. That's about 100 million metric tons per year that comes out. That sounds like a lot, and that is a lot of fish. However, that's generally recognized as the finest-run fishery in the world.
CONNELLYAnd it's because there's a collaborative effort between government industry, conservation groups and academics to determine what's the appropriate number of fish to be caught and then, as Eric said, to have observers onboard ships and vessels to make sure that that number isn't exceeded, and if not in person, then to have vessel monitoring systems, which are more electronic means to determine how much fish is caught.
REHMEric Schwaab -- sorry -- John Connelly, he is president at the National Fisheries Institute. Juliet Eilperin, how did all this come together? It seems that there are an awful lot of working parts to make this kind of agreement come into force.
EILPERINWhat's interesting about this agreement, in contrast to many other environmental issues, is it really was the product of a bipartisan effort to change the way fisheries are run in America. And there was both considerable bipartisan support for it and also some bipartisan opposition at this point.
EILPERINBut when you go back five years ago, which is when, really, all of this came into being when there was a reauthorization of the national fisheries law, what happened is you actually had a Republican president, George W. Bush, who certainly did not make many friends in the environmental movement, who teamed up with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who was one of the original authors of this law back several decades ago, and Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii.
EILPERINAnd they made it clear that any agreement that passed the Senate had to have the backing of both Democrats and Republicans. And so what you really saw was just this collaboration between a Republican administration, which was, frankly, much more comfortable working on fisheries issues with environmental groups than, say, other issues that are dealt with, whether you're talking forestry or greenhouse gas emissions, things like that.
EILPERINAnd so they came to this idea that, while they might have to compromise on certain things, they really wanted to put in the scientific requirement to end overfishing, and that's the real distinction that we've seen. And it's managed to endure, in part, because it really did have a bipartisan coalition behind it from the beginning that has sustained to this day.
REHMAnd in addition to that bipartisan commission coalition, you've got regional forces effort.
EILPERINRight. So one thing that's really interesting about fisheries is that you find that -- you know, obviously, there's the old saying that all politics is local. That's never more true than when you're talking about fisheries, so the politics in New England is very different from, for example, when John talks about Alaska, where you've had some of the best-run fisheries for decades, and there's absolute bipartisan agreement on, for example, adhering to the science or -- again, the southeast Atlantic is the place where there's contentiousness.
EILPERINSo you're able to forge alliances depending on the region of the country you're talking about, which does change the political equation.
REHMJuliet Eilperin, she is environmental reporter for The Washington Post. She's also author of the book "Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks." We'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk more, take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd as we talk about the U.S. imposing new catch limits on both commercial and recreational fishing, we're joined now by Vito Giacalone. He is chairman of governmental affairs for the Northeast Seafood Coalition. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. VITO GIACALONEGood morning.
REHMVito, I gather you have some serious concerns about this plan. Tell me about them.
GIACALONEWell, I think the biggest issue is that, for years, we've been hearing -- this is not a one-size-fits-all application that would work. And, you know, for years, we've heard sort of the feeling or the insinuation that in New England, politics and the regional council process has somehow consistently allowed overfishing to occur or allowed catch limits. Catch limits are not new. Hearing in the show that there's a discussion, for the first time, we're going to have catch limits, well, we've had -- for as long as I've been at this, we've had catch limits.
GIACALONEAnd in 2004, our fishery went to a even more accountable management regime that was basically looking to honor the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act, which was the -- a reauthorization of Magnuson that mandated rebuilding fish stocks and in, basically, arbitrary timeframes. So, although we agree completely with the ending overfishing and that we should be fishing at sustainable levels, and as John, you know, correctly points out, no stakeholders more so than the commercial fishing industry are extremely concerned and have a stake in the game when it comes to ending overfishing.
GIACALONEBecause, you know, by rebuilding fish stocks, that's a great thing for, you know, commercial fishermen that rely on the resource. The issue is that rebuilding basically has Congress mandating Mother Nature perform at a certain level and that -- so the annual catch limits are not just set to fish at sustainable levels. The annual catch limits are set through an additional mandate, which is to -- you know, well, for lack of a better word -- pretend that we can force the fish stock to perform in the ecosystem at a certain level on a certain rebuilding timeline and trajectory.
GIACALONEAnd that's what's proven to pretty much fail most of the fisheries, is that if the fish stocks don't perform the way science believed they could in projecting out into the future, then what you do is you ratchet fishing down way below what would be considered the sustainable level, even under the scientific knowledge, and you bring it down to some artificially low rebuilding level. And there's where the -- you know, the kicker basically is causing all of these serious nosebleed management responses that's been happening.
REHMSo I gather, Vito, you're particularly concerned about the rebuilding timeframes.
GIACALONEWell, the rebuilding -- I'll just put out there, the biggest concern is that this entire, you know, theoretical approach to fisheries management assumes, and it relies upon, a foundation of scientific precision that does not exist. Well, as Eric correctly points out, we have fabulous science here, but the science is really not -- and it's been proven. This is objective and not an opinion. If you look at our fisheries since 2004, we managed 12 species, 19 fish stocks, and we have not exceeded a management total allowable catch.
GIACALONEWe've had a total allowable catch, or as -- you know, akin to these ACLs -- our annual catch limits, we've implemented those on every fish stock in our fishery since 2004. And the fishery, fishing under an effort control system, did not exceed any of those allowable catch limits. In fact, in many cases, less than 50 percent of the amount was caught.
GIACALONEYet, in retrospect, the system that we've set up is that we then look at the fish stocks again two or three years down the road and say, although we set an annual catch limit, for example, of 10 and the fish -- fishery only caught six, in retrospect, it looks like we were wrong, scientifically, and the healthy level or the rebuilding level should have been three. So we end up in this constant state of looking back and saying, we continue to overfish even when the fishery has not exceeded an annual catch limit.
REHMOK. So, Vito...
GIACALONESo until we recognize that serious problem, we're not going to get out of the quagmire of sustainable fisheries, and a fishery...
GIACALONE...by definition, is the recreational and commercial aspects as well.
REHMAll right. But let me ask you then what sort of program you would have preferred rather than these new catch limits.
GIACALONEThe -- well, we're going to say -- when we look at this, the -- an extraordinarily high allowable catch limit is produced or recommended by the science just as often as a too low annual catch limit.
GIACALONESo what I'm getting at is that the scientific precision for moving forward -- and especially in our fishery, which we don't have the luxury of hundred thousands of metric tons. We have very small ACLs or annual catch limits that we work with -- is that rather than have the very huge highs that we believe are too high for some fish stocks and could potentially jeopardize -- I mean, this law does not protect a fish stock when we move away from effort controls and into purely output control management, does not protect the fish stock from overfishing.
GIACALONEBecause if the ACL that's set by the science is too high and the fishery catches all of it or even something less than that, in retrospect, we find out we continue to overfish. We can potentially jeopardize these stocks, so if we work...
REHMAll right. Let's get Eric Schwaab's -- excuse me, let's get Eric Schwaab's response to your points.
SCHWAABThanks, Diane, and good morning, Vito.
GIACALONEGood morning, Eric.
SCHWAABGood to hear from you. So Vito covered a lot of ground there.
REHMHe sure did.
SCHWAABI think that certainly we agree that the science is not as always as precise as it -- as we would all like it to be. It is accurate certainly much more often than not, and the question then becomes, even when science is accurate at any given point in time and we have certain expectations, Mother Nature does not always cooperate. You know, these ocean ecosystems, you know, have been challenged by a lot of other things beyond fishing over the years. And how do we react when the expectations of fishermen, when the expectations of scientists and managers don't come to be in future years?
SCHWAABAnd I think that one of the most important things that we need to do is, number one, maintain that science focus so that we can make the appropriate adjustments. Vito is right, that we need to make -- we need to work very closely with fishermen and fishing communities to provide the maximum business opportunity than any given fish stock can produce. He talked a little about output controls, and we have been working on a management system up in -- with the New England groundfish fishery that is called sector management.
SCHWAABIt gives fishermen more freedom to work with a focus on staying within catch limits. And he did indicate -- and he's right -- that they've done a very good job of staying within those catch limits. And there's probably more that I can say, but, most importantly, we need to continue to work together. We need to bring the science. We need to bring the management, and we need to bring the experiences and the needs of fishermen together in one place to make decisions.
REHMJuliet, do you want to comment?
EILPERINYeah. I think part of what you're hearing is -- from Vito is the idea that there's tremendous pressure on wild fisheries across the nation and, frankly, across the world. And we're in a situation right now where -- particularly where you've had intense fishing for centuries -- like we've had up in New England and elsewhere in the world -- that it's more challenging to manage these fisheries because they've been decimated over time.
EILPERINAnd while there have been genuine efforts to bring them back, sometimes this is not predictable, and that also, you know, we're dealing with the fact that we're trying to balance trying to get wild fish that we can sell, as well as raising some, importing a huge amount of seafood, which we do to the United States, and so, really, we are in a difficult situation, which is why some of these tough choices are being made now.
CONNELLYJust to follow on briefly, it's important for your listeners to understand that stocks fluctuate significantly. The pollock stock that I mentioned before has had an allowable catch of 1.3 million metric tons. Within a few years, it went down to 815,000, and now it's back at 1.1 million. So…
REHMHow do you account for that?
CONNELLYIt's Mother Nature. Its stocks go up, stocks go down. But it's important to understand that. And I think what Vito is calling for is for NOAA to recognize the fluctuations in stocks and to appreciate that we really can't manage Mother Nature. We can try to learn as much as possible, but I think Vito is calling for a little bit flexibility within the council system and with the NOAA fisheries team.
REHMVito Giacalone, last word, please.
GIACALONEI agree with all accounts there. I think that what we need to do is to recognize, you know, that the law demands at face value far more precision than is deliverable when we're looking forward and that, rather than try to dictate Mother Nature, let's continue to manage fisheries now that the commercial fisheries in the U.S., especially in New England, is now also able to show that, the management tools we have, we can stay within the annual catch limits comfortably.
GIACALONEWhat we now need to do is stabilize those annual catch limits. And what we're seeing is we should forego the ability to have very high annual catch limits on a short-term recommendation in return for not having those nosebleed situations where we're now being told you have to reduce fishing to zero even after you've stayed within the catch limits. And, you know, that's the common sense. We want to sustain fishing communities and commercial fisheries while fishing at levels.
GIACALONEAnd definitely the science is capable of looking back and setting that sweet spot, we'll call it, where we know that the level of fishing has proven over time, over decades, that fish stock has never declined, is always in an upward trend, is, if we were to set our ACLs at that level, that's going to knock a lot off the top. But it's also going to eliminate the situations like this crisis that we have coming up in Gulf of Maine cod, where, you know, it seems to be basically just the technical result of us pretending that we know how to forecast an annual catch limit out in front of us.
REHMAll right. I want to thank you so much for joining us. Vito Giacalone, he's chairman of -- for governmental affairs at the Northeast Seafood Coalition. And joining us now from New Gretna, N.J., is Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. Good morning to you, Jim.
MR. JIM DONOFRIOGood morning, Diane, and thank you.
REHMGive me an idea of how recreational fishermen and women in your organization are looking at this new plan and thinking about it.
DONOFRIOWell, we have big concerns because we feel that right now -- I don't know if you're aware of this, but the data collection system for recreational fishing has been deemed by the National Research Council as fatally flawed and should not be used for annual monitoring. Now, NOAA has a federal mandate from Congress to put in a new program, which they're two years behind already.
DONOFRIOAnd Eric will tell you that, as he just announced, it may not be even in effect till late 2012 or 2013. So how can we then be held accountable with these rigid annual catch limits and accountability measures when we don't have a catch system that's accountable? I mean, this is incredible that the agency doesn't have the integrity to suspend the ACLs and the accountability measures until they have a program in place.
REHMGive me a sense, from your perspective, Jim, of how the size of the recreational fishing industry compares to the commercial.
DONOFRIOWell, we're -- you know, we're a large industry. You know, some of the figures are as high as, I heard, 60 billion, but I think that incorporates freshwater. But it's huge. It's a huge industry. You know, I know the NOAA estimates are 10 million saltwater anglers, but I don't believe it's 10 million because they -- just anyone that goes to saltwater once a year is probably accounted in that. The number is probably lower than that.
DONOFRIOI'd say the hardcore -- you know, the hardcore numbers, people that really fish for a passion, the numbers are probably maybe half that. But if there's 5 million anglers, you know, that are hardcore, that's great. That's a lot of people, but it means a lot of business. There's a lot of shoreside tackle, marine and service people, boat building, boat service. All that comes into effect. It's a huge industry.
DONOFRIOAnd then, of course, it trickles down to the restaurants, hotels, et cetera.
REHMSure. Eric Schwaab, are there separate quotas then for recreational and commercial fishing?
DONOFRIOYeah, we have -- the way the councils are managed, they have -- you know, they -- especially, like, in joint fisheries, such as summer flounder and sea bass, you know, the commercial sector has their quota that they fish on, and the recreational sector has theirs. But we're managed by seasons, size limits and bag limits. So we already have an accountability measure in place right there. We're accountable to that.
DONOFRIOAnd we make adjustments the next year. And they'll say, OK, we may have to cut you back in time, or we'll cut you back in size or limit. But to have all this other in place is kind of like double jeopardy. We're already managed.
REHMAll right. I want to get Eric Schwaab's comment.
SCHWAABSo there are -- would be a -- for stocks, where there are both recreational and commercial interest, there is a total allowable catch to this set. And that total allowable catch is then divided among commercial fishermen and the recreational community. The recreational community, being sort of -- being larger in number and more dispersed, generally, their fishing catch is assessed based on a survey process, and that's the process that Jim spoke to.
SCHWAABThat survey process involves a certain number of telephone surveys, a certain number of surveys of fishermen returning to the dock, and then that's put together to estimate recreational catch. In some cases, recreational catch can be every bit as important to the long-term management objectives as the commercial catch -- in some cases, more.
REHMAnd, Juliet, does that seem to be measured out fairly?
EILPERINWell, I think most people, including probably Eric Schwaab, would admit that, right now, there's not the data that, you know, we would want to fairly figure out, at this point, exactly how much is being caught. It's so much harder. You don't have an observer. I mean, we don't have that many federal observers to begin with, honestly, but you certainly -- when you decide to go out shark fishing or, you know, go in for, you know, marlin or something like that, you don't usually have someone on -- by your side who's checking and seeing how much you're doing or going for red snapper.
EILPERINSo, right now, there has been -- basically, they're re-evaluating their process, but it isn't fully implemented. And, again, to some extent, you're -- you know, you're depending on self-reporting. But then the question becomes, when you don't have enough information, do you take a precautionary principle, and do you cut back in how much you give people? Or do you say, you can fish more right now because we're not exactly sure where the species is at?
REHMJuliet Eilperin, she's environmental reporter for The Washington Post. Jim Donofrio, I want to thank you for joining us. He's with the Recreational Fishing Alliance. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. Stay with us.
REHMAnd a number of our listeners would like to know which fish in particular are being overfished. Juliet.
EILPERINThere are a number of overfished stocks, nearly 50 across the country, but some that come to mind are, for example, bluefin tuna that people might love, which is in the Gulf of Mexico. And we're still assessing how it was affected by the oil spill there, as well as it's just historically been overfished for sashimi and things like that. There are a number of shark species, which people don't think that, you know, they might not eat it that much.
EILPERINBut porbeagle shark, which goes for fish and chips in -- yeah, in England as well as sometimes is consumed here, or sandbar shark and dusky shark, have really been overfished. White marlin is an incredible game fish that people love and people talk about, whether it should be an endangered species. So there really are a number that are in big trouble as well. Something like red snapper is doing very well in one region. It's really rebounded in the Gulf of Mexico, but it's still struggling in the southeast Atlantic.
REHMInteresting. John Connelly.
CONNELLYDiane, it's important to know that 90 percent of what American consumers eat are in 10 species of fish, things like salmon, tuna, shrimp, pollock, tilapia, crabs, scallop, et cetera. So for listeners concerned, the majority of what they eat are actually in pretty good shape if -- because much of it is the kind of farmed product and wild product that Juliet talked about. There's a mix of that, for instance, for shrimp or for...
CONNELLY...salmon, for instance. So most of what Americans eat is actually in pretty good shape, whether it'd be farmed product or under a management regime within NOAA. Things like bluefin tuna, absolutely. There are challenges with bluefin tuna, particularly in -- out of the Mediterranean. But it's also important to know that, on average, an American eats less than the weight of a paperclip worth of bluefin tuna per year. Now, there are some big bluefin tuna eaters out there in a sushi market. But on average, we eat less than the weight of a paperclip worth of bluefin tuna each year.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones going to Columbia, Mo. Good morning, Carey. (sp?)
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
CAREYMy question briefly, these regulations that we're putting on domestic fisheries are miniscule compared to the gross overfishing performed in -- by China, particularly, but other Asian countries. Is there a direction that we're thinking about moving as far as regulating, or we're going to say, we're just going to regulate our own fisheries, and, hopefully, that will offset the continual overfishing by other countries?
EILPERINWell, one of the issues there -- and your caller is absolutely correct that there certainly is overfishing by a number of countries and that is demand. There's actually -- for example, there are tons of European countries that do overfishing to supply, for example, the Japanese market or, you know, sometimes other Asian markets. But, really, what you have to look at is every country has exclusive control over 200 miles from shore in our water.
EILPERINSo what the U.S. has control of is that area, and so that's what's under these catch limit requirements that we're talking about. And then, of course -- and Eric can speak to -- that the administration is engaged in international negotiations as previous negotiations have been -- previous administrations -- trying to set stricter limits overseas as part of particularly migratory species that might spend some time in our waters but, of course, are traveling across the Atlantic and Pacific to other oceans.
SCHWAABSo, in fact, that's right. We are involved, in addition to domestic management, with what we call regional fishery management organizations all around the world where we work together with other countries to manage shared stocks. And we've seen...
REHMHow cooperative are they likely to be?
SCHWAABWell, so there is a shared interest in ensuring sustainability. The challenges are: First, obtaining the right science. Secondly, putting in place the kinds of management measures like catch limits that are really required to achieve the end objective and then ensuring compliance. And those things can happen within those organizations. There are also worldwide or shared efforts to end pirate or illegal fishing that is outside of even these regional fishery management organizations.
REHMLet me read this email from Liz. She says, "I lived in Dakar, Senegal, from 2005 to '06. And the local fishermen spoke often of fish they could no longer find because the international trawlers outside the national limits were taking them all before the fish came in closer to shore. Much of the fish available in Europe comes from these African shores. I'm glad that U.S. will limit levels here, but the important thing is that there'd be an international and enforceable limit. If not, our fish will just come from further away, and Africans, South Americans, Asians will grow hungrier."
CONNELLYDiane, what we're seeing on the international level is actually the experience of the U.S. in the last couple of decades. The debate, as Eric talked about and Juliet talked about, is about the science within those regional fishery management groups, with the intergovernmental groups, where we try to cooperate with Asian, Latin American and European countries to set the appropriate levels. Juliet talked about highly migratory species, which are fish that basically circle the globe in many cases. Canned tuna comes -- is a highly migratory species.
CONNELLYAnd one of the interesting programs that's developed there is, because of the frustration that the industry, conservation community felt within some of the RFMOs dealing with tuna, they actually got together. So the canned tuna industry on a global basis is now working with WWF, the leading conservation group, folks like National Geographic and others, to do science -- what the appropriate science levels are, what the appropriate catch levels are -- and is actually using the power of the marketplace to try to change the decisions of some of the governments involved in those intergovernmental groups.
REHMAll right. To Cambridge, Mass. Good morning, Jonah.
JONAHHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
JONAHAnd thank you for also choosing subjects on your show which are important. I was a commercial fisherman for five years in Alaska for many different species. One of the things that I feel like is not being addressed is bycatch. That would be catch that would come aboard, usually dead, that was not allowable because of catch limits to be sold or consumed, and therefore dumped overboard and not counted.
JONAHSo there's thousands and thousands, millions of pounds of food that's harvested and then dumped back into the ocean. And as a fisherman, it was always awful to see such death and mismanagement of species that weren't counted because they weren't the targeted species.
SCHWAABSo that's absolutely right. And I think one of the major accomplishments of recent years that I actually hear fishermen speak to with great pride is that some of these catch limits and some of these accountability measures and some of these new management systems that have been put in place more fully account for and utilize bycatch. And so if you can effectively reduce bycatch, which we are, and more effectively account for in the science, then you will accelerate the rebuilding schedules for a lot of these stocks. You will ensure more sustainable fisheries going into the future.
REHMAnd joining us now by phone is Congressman Frank Pallone. He's Democrat from New Jersey. Good morning to you, sir.
REP. FRANK PALLONE JR.Hi, Diane. How are you doing? Can you hear me?
REHMI'm fine, thank you. I certainly can. You are, I gather, proposing some changes to this plan. Tell us what they are and your rationale.
JR.Well, I have what I call a Magnuson Flexibility bill, and, basically, it's designed to provide some flexibility with regard to different stocks. But with regard to the annual catch limits, the biggest concern is the fact that much of the decision making is not scientifically and rationally based. You know, I represent both commercial and recreational fishermen. I've been involved in fishing, you know, fisheries and management most of my life.
JR.And, you know, my -- the biggest complaint I get from -- particularly from the recreational fishermen in my district is that, you know, when they establish catch limits, that the science is very poor and not accurate. So it's very difficult to justify, you know, decisions that are being made by Regional Fisheries Councils or by National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington to your constituents without accurate science.
JR.And that's the main thing that we've been trying to do, is trying to move the science forward, make sure the decisions are rationally based, and the bill would provide a certain amount of flexibility to either suspend catch limits or otherwise deal with them if the science and the rationale is not there.
REHMBut are you saying that, as currently constituted, that NOAA simply does not have sufficient science in place to do what's needed?
JR.Absolutely, Diane. I don't think there's any question about that. In fact, when Eric Schwaab, who is the director of NMFS -- I don't know if he's on now or...
REHMYes, he is.
JR.Yeah. When Eric...
REHMHe's right here in the studio.
JR.When Eric testified before the Natural Resources Committee, which, you know, I'm a member of and which has jurisdiction over fisheries -- you know, this was a few months ago or so -- he specifically stated that the new system -- we call it MRIP or the Marine Recreational Information Program -- that was supposed to be put in place by 2009, was not in place and wouldn't be in place until 2012. So, you know, I think that's an example of why they simply haven't kept up.
JR.And it's very difficult as a politician, you know, and make sense that, you know, if the science isn't there, you know, then these regimes lack legitimacy, and that's what this legislation is designed to do, to say that, you know, we have to put these systems, these better systems in place. And if they're not in place and there's no -- and the -- basically, what we say is that, for each regional council -- you know, they have a science and statistical committee.
JR.And if they can't show that the science is adequate to make these decisions about annual catch limits, then the secretary of commerce can come in and say that, you know, the negative impact on coastal fisheries or on the coastal economy is such that they should suspend the annual catch limits or basically go back to the drawing board if it's not scientifically based.
REHMAll right. Eric Schwaab, can you comment on the congressman's point that the science simply is not there yet?
SCHWAABSo, generally, science questions are not black or white. They're matters of degrees. We acknowledge that we would love to have better science in a lot of cases.
REHMYou need more money for that?
SCHWAABWe need lots of things to continue to improve our science. Money is a part of that, work with fishermen, another big part of that. New technology is a third part of that. But the component of the science endeavor that Mr. Pallone spoke to, in reference to my commentary in the hearing, is specific to recreational catch and effort. And we are putting a new program in place. So I do feel the need to clarify that there are about 230 federal stocks that make up 90 percent-plus of the landings from federal waters.
SCHWAABAnd we have, today, what we assess to be more -- sufficient knowledge on more than half of those stocks, sound assessments on more than half of those stocks. So to suggest that we don't have any science or to suggest that we completely lack science to make a good sound management decision is probably a little bit of an overstatement. Can we get better? Yes. Are we working hard to get better? Absolutely. But we need to manage these stocks responsibly. And the lack of information, it does not justify taking undue risk.
REHMEric Schwaab of NOAA. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Congressman Pallone, any other thoughts?
JR.Well, I think that, you know, Eric is basically saying the same thing that he did say before the committee. I'm not suggesting that everything that they do is lacking science. But the point I'm trying to make is that, I think, there has to be some flexibility. And it doesn't make sense to -- I think, to change the law to say that where the science is not adequate and they cannot justify their decisions and there is a negative impact on, you know, the ability to fish primarily with recreational fisheries and the coastal communities, that there should be some exemptions made. And that's simply all we're saying.
JR.We're not saying that, you know, every decision that's made is inaccurate, but many are not scientifically based. And in those situations, exceptions have to be made. You know, part of -- Diane, just so you understand, I mean, you know, the problem is it's an age old problem, which is that, you know, the bureaucracy exists, and the bureaucracy, you know, carries out the law based on, you know, whatever best information they have.
JR.But when you're an elected official and you're responsible to the public, you know, they just don't find it acceptable that if things are not scientifically and rationally based that there should be, you know, a regime or bureaucracy in place that says this is the catch limit. And, I mean, I think you can all understand that, you know, we have to be responsible to the public, too.
JR.And when they're saying, you know, a good percentage of these decisions are not necessarily based on the base science, then I can't go back to my constituents and say, OK, we're going to do this anyway. They'd say, well, that's ridiculous.
REHMAll right. Congressman Frank Pallone, Democrat from New Jersey, thank you so much for joining us.
JR.Thank you, Diane.
REHMWe have a caller on the phone from San Antonio who says, "This is having a tough effect on individual fisherman. My stepfather had to retool his business and sell his boat." Juliet, these are not easy times.
EILPERINThese aren't. I mean, obviously, we're facing a tough economic situation as it is. And when you do impose these requirements, it does have a cost. Now, you know -- and it takes a long time to solve these problems -- some of the requirements we're seeing now came out of a collaboration in the mid-'90s between Carl Safina, who heads the Blue Ocean Institute in Long Island, and Wayne Gilchrest, a former Republican member from Maryland, from this area.
EILPERINThey started working on this, you know, ages ago. And so you are going to see that this will take time, and there are some costs to curbing the fishing that we've had for years.
CONNELLYAbsolutely. Diane, this is a -- we're in a transition, unfortunately, and there are going to be dislocations, which is very tough, particularly when it's a personal issue. And it's easy to talk about this in the abstract, but when it's your father, your father-in-law losing the job, that becomes very personal.
REHMJohn Connelly of the National Fisheries Institute, Eric Schwaab of NOAA, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, a conversation that could go on for quite a while, thank you all so much.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts, and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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