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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fishery, Aquaculture, and Marine Mammal Issues in the 112th Congress

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Fish and marine mammals are important resources in open ocean and nearshore coastal areas; many federal laws and regulations guide their management as well as the management of their habitat. Aquaculture or fish farming enterprises seek to supplement food traditionally provided by wild harvests.

Commercial and sport fishing are jointly managed by the federal government and individual states. States generally have jurisdiction within 3 miles of the coast. Beyond state jurisdiction and out to 200 miles in the federal exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the federal government (National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS) manages fisheries under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) through eight regional fishery management councils. Beyond 200 miles, the United States participates in international agreements relating to specific areas or species. The 112th Congress may oversee implementation of the MSFCMA as well as address individual habitat and management concerns for U.S. commercial and sport fisheries in an attempt to modify the balance between resource use and protection. Additional concerns might include providing additional flexibility in managing harvests to eliminate overfishing; determining the appropriate level of funding for fishery disaster assistance; determining whether to modify fishing vessel capacity reduction and limited access privilege (catch-share) programs; modifying programs to better control bycatch of nontarget species; amending various fishery laws to strengthen enforcement to stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; amending and reauthorizing the Oceans and Human Health Act; amending and reauthorizing the Coral Reef Conservation Act; enhancing efforts to monitor, restore, and protect marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico; implementing the Antigua Convention for eastern tropical Pacific tuna; authorizing a national strategy to address harmful algal blooms and hypoxia; and providing additional support to maintain the character of traditional fishing communities.

Aquaculture—the farming of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic animals and plants in a controlled environment—is expanding rapidly abroad, yet with little growth in the United States. In the United States, important species cultured include catfish, salmon, shellfish, and trout. The 112th Congress may consider whether National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration policies and regulations can balance development and regulation of the aquaculture industry in the U.S. EEZ, and whether to prohibit regional fishery management councils from authorizing aquaculture in federal offshore waters through fishery management plans and their amendments under the MSFCMA.

Marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). With few exceptions, the MMPA prohibits harm or harassment (“take”) of marine mammals, unless permits are obtained. It also addresses specific situations of concern, such as dolphin mortality associated with the eastern tropical Pacific tuna fishery. The 112th Congress may consider bills to amend the MMPA, including the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program, as well as measures to address specific marine mammal habitat and management concerns, such as how to deal with the effects of increasing noise in the ocean and an expanded research program for the recovery of the southern sea otter.

The level of appropriations for fisheries, aquaculture/hatchery, and marine mammal programs administered by the NMFS and the Fish and Wildlife Service may be an issue during the 112th Congress amid pressures to reduce federal spending.

Date of Report: September 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R41613
Price: $29.95

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