Progress and Problems of Fisheries Management Under the Fishery Conservation and Management Act

CED-79-23: Published: Jan 9, 1979. Publicly Released: Jan 9, 1979.

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Depletion and overfishing of domestic fishery resources prompted the passage of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976. U.S. jurisdiction was thus extended to 200 miles from the U.S. shoreline, and a new fisheries management organization was established. Eight regional fishery management councils were set up to manage fisheries in conjunction with the States and the Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). GAO examined the implementation of the Act, with emphasis on the activities of the regional councils and their interactions with NMFS.

NMFS and the eight regional councils have done much to achieve successful domestic fisheries management. They are working together toward insuring conservation and realizing the full potential of the Nation's fishery resources. Foreign fishing in the Fishery Conservation Zone, the area extending 200 miles from the U.S. coastline, has been managed through preliminary fishery management plans (FMP). FMP's have been developed to provide fisheries management for domestic and foreign fishermen, and demand has been decreased on domestic fish stocks. While the Act and the accomplishments cited have established the U.S. as a leader in fisheries management, improvements are still needed. Limited biological and socioeconomic data on which to base FMP's hinder the Act's effectiveness. Other hindrances are limited public involvement, understanding and acceptance of the FMP's, and limited long-range planning. The process of developing and approving FMP's is time-consuming and the multiplicity of jurisdictions involved are also continuing problems. The councils and NMFS are working toward solving some of these problems. Plans to provide necessary data have been approved, suggestions are being developed to streamline the approval process, and the improvement of public participation is being considered.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should support NMFS' data collection plans to assure that data necessary for effective fisheries management are provided. The Secretary should monitor the extent to which jurisdictional problems impede the implementation of FMP's, and should, through NMFS and the regional councils, work with the States to enforce FMP's. If cooperative efforts with the States are ineffective, the Secretary should use the preemptive authority or propose additional legislation to extend Federal fisheries management over the territorial sea. The Secretary should direct the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries to encourage councils to publicize and conduct meetings at more convenient locations and explain actions taken. The Administrator should speed up the FMP development process by: providing needed guidance on FMP requirements to the councils; promptly reviewing draft FMP's; and working with councils to develop implementing regulations concurrently with final FMP's. The Administrator should also assist the councils in developing long-range plans for fisheries management, which include measurable long- and short-range biological and socioeconomic goals.

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