Enforcement Problems Hinder Effective Implementation of New Fishery Management Activities

CED-79-120: Published: Sep 12, 1979. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 1979.

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The Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 extended U.S. fisheries management to 200 miles from the territorial sea baseline. The Act authorizes management plans and implementing regulations to protect the fishing stocks from overfishing and to rebuild overfished stocks. It also prohibits foreign fishing in these waters if the domestic vessels have the capacity to catch the optimum yield of the fishery. The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have joint responsibility for enforcing the regulations to implement these fishery management plans. Plans for about 70 species will be developed, and GAO reviewed two of the nine plans already in effect.

Better enforcement of present plans is needed and steps should be taken to avoid similar problems in plans not yet issued. Many domestic fishing regulations which are impractical, confusing, and constantly changing, hamper effective enforcement. The State regulations that exist have not been coordinated with Federal guidelines. It is an impossible task for Federal enforcement authorities to determine where the fish were caught which is necessary to prove a violation. The Coast Guard and the NMFS have not set specific goals or decided what methods and how much staff and equipment are needed to meet the goals. Some Coast Guard personnel are inadequately trained in identifying fish, and since there is a lack of personnel to enforce the law, they are frequently transferred to help out temporarily elsewhere. Coordination is lacking between the Coast Guard and the NMFS, as well as within the NMFS. Penalties have not been strong enough to deter violations; the profit to be gained far outweighs the penalty if violators are caught. Even though the number of foreign vessels fishing the U.S. waters has decreased, as has the volume of their catches since the law went into effect, enforcement could be more effective in many ways. Foreign countries are not being charged the full fee due on their catches since there is no system to verify the accuracy of catch statistics. The high turnover rate of observers and the long time needed for training hampers enforcement. Since the observers do not report violations until they return from sea, a delay of several months can occur.

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