Louisiana seafood representatives have again traveled to Washington in a continuing effort to urge federal agencies to more accurately report and reflect the importance of the Gulf of Mexico’s natural seafood resources and the seafood industry’s importance in creating jobs.
Most recently, Harlon Pearce — chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and a Gulf seafood wholesaler for more than 40 years — spoke before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs about NOAA’s outdated fishery science and whether the lack of updated fisheries stock assessments by NOAA is adversely affecting U.S. seafood jobs.
The answer, according to Pearce, is yes. NOAA needs to make ecosystem data collection a greater priority in order for seafood resource managers to better determine how much seafood can be harvested in a given season.
Doing a fisheries stock assessment may be a cumbersome process, but it is the only way to guarantee a sustainable fishery. Unfortunately, current data is too old, said Pearce, and that’s creating a direct, negative impact on employment in the fishing industry.
“The Gulf of Mexico is a national treasure that belongs to every American citizen, and we all have the right to utilize this resource,” Pearce told the members of Congress. “The inability of fishery managers to access needed scientific data and their continued reliance on ‘best available science’ is doing the owners of our fishery a great disservice.”
For example, if you started a stock-assessment process today, in 2011, a scientist would have to rely on data from 2009, and the final management plan wouldn’t be ready for you until 2014.
“When we rely on outdated science that does not reflect the health of certain rebounding stocks, the ‘precautionary approach’ may be to set unnecessarily low catch limits that short-change fishermen and consumers. In the Gulf of Mexico, we only have adequate data on approximately 12 out of 80 species.”
There is a five-year lag time in translating fisheries data into public policy, Pearce underscored, and the situation has reached the point of serious concern.
The Resources Committee is looking into whether the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act should be updated in a way that might address this issue.Photographs by Kerry Maloney