Need To Improve Fishery Management Plan Process

RCED-83-72: Published: Jan 7, 1983. Publicly Released: Jan 7, 1983.

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GAO reviewed the fishery management planning process authorized under the Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which extended U.S. fisheries' jurisdiction and established eight regional fishery management councils which develop plans that provide the basis for and describe the conservation, management, and regulatory measures which govern and control specific fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approves and implements these plans.

The regional management councils and NMFS have made considerable progress in developing and implementing fishery management plans. However, Congress has expressed concern about the fishery management plan review and approval process. The process now takes an inordinate amount of time and the councils and NMFS differ over whether specific fisheries need to be managed and the responsibility for developing specific conservation and management measures. Further, council members believe that the Department of Commerce has frequently exceeded its legislative authority in reviewing fishery management plans. GAO stated that Commerce's policies regarding National Environmental Policy Act compliance exceed what is needed to satisfy the act, represent an unwarranted Federal regulatory burden, and delay the fishery management plan approval process. Commerce is working on organizational and administrative changes to make the plan review and approval process more efficient and to improve the working relationships between the regional councils and NMFS. Among the changes under consideration are transferring authority and responsibility from headquarters to field offices and developing framework management plans to help expedite the process. However, opinions continue to differ about the councils' and Commerce's roles in fishery plan development. In addition, Commerce needs to reduce, to the extent possible, unnecessary regulatory requirements that are impeding fishery plan development and implementation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide additional information to the councils on the benefits of using the framework management plan concept. Special attention should be directed to alleviating the councils' express concerns in the development and use of framework plans, including designating authority to change approved management measures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of NOAA to allow councils wide latitude in determining how fisheries should be managed and limit reviews to matters that affect the national standards and other applicable Federal laws.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of NOAA to permit regional councils to prepare environmental assessments in developing fishery plans and prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) only when warranted. Criteria should be developed to assist councils in determining when an EIS is needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The need for generic EIS's has diminished as a result of: (1) a new NOAA policy to permit councils to prepare environmental assessments, instead of EIS's, whenever appropriate; and (2) an emerging trend toward developing comprehensive fishery management plans covering many species in each plan which will lead to broader-based EIS's.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of NOAA to develop, in consultation with the regional councils, a generic EIS that could be applied to several fishery plans in the same geographic area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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