December 16th, 2015

Dr. Jason Link
Senior Scientist for Ecosystems
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
National Marine Fisheries Service
166 Water Street
Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543


Dear Dr. Link,

The Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) draft Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) Policy. The FCC represents over 1,000 conservation minded, community-based, small boat, commercial fishermen from around the country who advocate for sustainable, science-based fisheries management. We provide a unified, national voice for our member organizations who represent the interests of fishermen and fishing dependent communities along our nation’s coasts. We work tirelessly to promote thriving commercial fishing communities and sustainable seafood access that is built on healthy fish stocks and marine systems, and responsible stewardship. 

The FCC commends NMFS for the work they have done to develop a draft EBFM policy. We fully support the inclusion of fishery dependent communities as an ecosystem component and see EBFM as a potential tool for greater recognition of coastal communities in the fishery management process. Additionally, like NMFS, we support the use of Fishery Ecosystem Plans as a tool for Regional Fishery Management Councils (Councils) to implement EBFM on a regional level. We believe this approach best allows each Council to address its region-specific needs, while also enhancing stakeholder involvement and the transparency of the Councils’ decision-making processes.

We do, however, have two major concerns regarding this policy and would appreciate NMFS providing clarification. First, we are concerned that in failing to define the terms “living marine resources” (LMR) and “trust LMRs,” NMFS could place undue burden on the Councils. Left undefined, these terms are so broad that they could overwhelm Councils’ finite resources and thereby undermine a Council’s ability to carry out its responsibilities under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Additionally, the lack of clarity regarding LMRs and trust LMRs could add another layer of complexity to the responsibility that the Councils share with other federal agencies (e.g. management of marine mammals and endangered species). We believe LMR management should be addressed in this policy, but we also believe that NMFS should clearly define both LMRs and trust LMRs, and Council and agencies’ responsibilities with respect to managing LMRs within the context of EBFM. We fully support managing LMRs within the context of EBFM and want to ensure that this policy is able to address that while also not burdening the Councils beyond their means.

Secondly, we ask NMFS to clarify the Final Outcome principle in the pyramid of six principles. This principle reads, “Maintain Resilient Ecosystems.” While the FCC supports the idea of resilient ecosystems and the numerous benefits that come from such a system, we also want to caution NMFS against singularly pursuing this goal at the expense of our fishermen. We would like NMFS to provide a clear definition of a resilient system so Councils have a clear goal and can implement reasonable steps to achieve that goal. We worry that the term “resilient” is often associated with limited and/or prohibited activities within a system and this could negatively impact our fishing businesses and livelihoods. By providing a definition that accounts for and acknowledges resource extraction, NMFS can help ensure that our fishermen maintain their access to healthy fisheries, support thriving businesses and communities, and keep our nation supplied with high-quality seafood. 

We believe NMFS has taken an important step in working to formalize their EBFM policy. We are pleased to see this progress and look forward to commenting on future documents further outlining the specifics of the EBFM Policy. We have developed a list of criteria/principles against which we will judge any future EBFM plans or policies. They are as follows:

1)    The plan/policy has clear objectives and actionable steps.
What is the ultimate outcome of this policy and how is it different than what we are currently doing? How will we achieve this outcome? We would like to see well-defined outcomes and steps in order to ensure a smooth incorporation of EBFM principles into current management frameworks.
2)    The plan/policy is regionally specific.
Each region has specific needs and a policy that is nationally prescriptive will limit the Councils’ abilities to address their unique challenges. There should be some built-in flexibility for the Councils to manage according to their needs.
3)    The plan/policy doesn’t add unnecessary and/or overly burdensome regulations.
We do not want to see any plan or policy create more paperwork or busywork for the Councils simply for the sake of solidifying an EBFM policy. Many regional Councils have begun to implement steps towards EBFM and these actions should be accounted for when issuing final EBFM mandates and regulations.
4)    There should be a financial commitment from NOAA/NMFS for any requirements placed on the industry or Councils.
There are a lot of proposals in this document that would need adequate funding in order to be fully realized. The 2006 MSA Reauthorization was extremely data intensive and NMFS continues to struggle to fund some of these initiatives. We do not want to see the same fate for this policy.
5)    The development and finalization of any plan/policy should be a transparent and public process.
Relevant stakeholders should be involved in this process from start to end. Engaging fishermen, Council members, and others will provide NMFS with industry buy-in and a final document that addresses both the agency’s priorities and the needs of the fisheries.

Finally, the FCC understands that NMFS is currently developing an “EBFM Roadmap” that will include specific objectives that are applicable to each regional Council, as well as what EBFM will look like in an operational context. This will be a valuable tool, but one that requires stakeholder input at the regional level. We are, therefore, concerned that NMFS may not make this roadmap available for public comment. One of the stated goals in the draft EBFM policy is to seek “long-term ecological, economic, and societal goals, objectives, and priorities for FEPs that are based on the results of inclusive strategic planning with diverse stakeholders [emphasis added].” Failing to provide for ample stakeholder input at every stage of this process runs counter to this EBFM goal and could serve to undermine the effectiveness of the policy. The FCC thus urges NMFS to encourage and facilitate public comments on the Roadmap.

We applaud NMFS for taking steps to formalize their EBFM approach. Considering ecosystem components in management will help promote healthy fish stocks and thriving ecosystems while promoting sustainable fisheries. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to comment on this draft EBFM policy and look forward to working with NMFS on future EBFM documents, including the forthcoming EBFM Roadmap document. We are confident that by continuing to work with stakeholders and the industry, this policy will achieve important conservation goals while allowing fishermen and communities to thrive.


Sincerely,

Linda Behnken
Executive Director
Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association     

John Pappalardo
Chief Executive Officer
Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance
     
Ben Martens
Executive Director
Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association
 
Shannon Carroll
Fisheries Policy Director
Alaska Marine Conservation Council         

Eric Brazer
Deputy Director
Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance