National Marine Fisheries Service: Improved Economic Analysis and Evaluation Strategies Needed for Proposed Changes to Atlantic Large Whale Protection Plan

GAO-07-881 Published: Jul 20, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2007.
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Highlights

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) developed the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction (ALWTR) plan to protect endangered large whales from entanglements in commercial fishing gear, which can cause injury or death. Because whales continued to die after the ALWTR plan went into effect, NMFS proposed revisions in 2005. GAO was asked to review these proposed revisions, including (1) their scientific basis and uncertainties regarding their effectiveness, (2) NMFS's plans to address concerns about the feasibility of implementing them, (3) the extent to which NMFS fully assessed the costs to the fishing industry and impacts on fishing communities, and (4) the extent to which NMFS developed strategies for fully evaluating their effectiveness. GAO reviewed the proposed changes to the ALWTR plan and obtained the views of NMFS officials, industry representatives, scientists, and conservationists.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce Before NMFS finalizes its proposed regulations for the ALWTR plan, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to direct the Assistant Administrator for NMFS to adequately represent the uncertainty in data that the agency used to determine the costs of the proposed fishing gear modifications, by presenting a range of possible costs in the economic analysis section of the final environmental impact statement.
Closed - Implemented
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) clarified some of the variations and uncertainties in its analysis of the costs of complying with potential modifications to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction plan in a new appendix included in the economic analysis section of its final environmental impact statement. Specifically, the new appendix contains a sensitivity analysis of four potentially important categories of costs, such as the amount of gear loss, that uses alternate cost values above and below the primary cost values for each cost category to produce a range of cost estimates for fishermen to comply with some of the proposed gear modifications. NMFS finalized the environmental impact statement in September 2007, before finalizing its proposed regulations for the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction plan on October 5, 2007.
Department of Commerce Before NMFS finalizes its proposed regulations for the ALWTR plan, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to direct the Assistant Administrator for NMFS to revise the proposed gear-marking requirements to include markings on sinking groundline and gear marking requirements in exempted areas.
Closed - Not Implemented
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) did not include gear-marking requirements on sinking ground line or in exempted areas in its final regulations for the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction plan. Although the agency concurred with GAO that methods are needed for identifying sinking ground line and gear from exempted areas, it stated that such markings were not feasible or practical at the time. Actions the agency has taken since that time related to this recommendation, such as developing a document in 2010 that discusses the pros and cons of the current gear marking scheme and identifies more extensive gear marking schemes for the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team to consider, have not been responsive to the recommendation.
Department of Commerce Before NMFS finalizes its proposed regulations for the ALWTR plan, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to direct the Assistant Administrator for NMFS to develop a strategy for assessing the extent of industry compliance with the gear modification requirements.
Closed - Implemented
In July 2011, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a draft Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan Monitoring Strategy. The draft Monitoring Strategy is divided into two components: (1) evaluating the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan's overall effectiveness and (2) evaluating compliance with the plan's requirements. The draft Monitoring Strategy includes strategies for collecting and reporting data that will assist NMFS to assess industry compliance with the gear modification requirements of the plan. While NMFS was unable to complete the Monitoring Strategy before finalizing its regulations for the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, we believe that this NMFS action adequately implements our recommendation.

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