Weak Plan Fails to Address Overfishing in the Pacific, Says EDF

October 14, 1998

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today criticized the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) for failing to adopt measures by October 13 (as required by Federal law) to prevent overfishing, rebuild depleted stocks, reduce bycatch and discards, and protect habitat from the effects of fishing.

“The Council’s plan fails to adopt any measures to reduce bycatch and discards,” said EDF marine ecologist Dr. Rod Fujita. “Instead of taking swift and much needed action to protect the long-term viability of the fishing industry, the Council is setting up more committees and bureaucracy.”

The PFMC did adopt a default formula to slow fishing when stocks fall below 40% of their unfished levels, and to stop fishing altogether when stocks fall below 10% of those levels. “While this is a step in the right direction, more protective levels will probably be required for long-lived species such as rockfish. In addition, allowing stocks to decline to 10% of their unfished levels may have adverse ecological consequences,” said Fujita.

The Council immediately exempted lingcod and bocaccio from the default formula. Both species have been fished below 10% of their unfished levels. “The Council is just accepting the status quo of waste and continued decline. They should ban all landings of these fish and move toward a less wasteful fishery of the future,” said Fujita. Instead, the Council is considering options for allowing landings and continued discarding of these fish, to be voted on at their November meeting in Portland, Oregon.

The Council adopted a good description of groundfish habitat and measures for preventing and mitigating non-fishing impacts on habitat, such as pollution. However, the Council did not comply with a requirement to reduce the impacts of fishing on habitat. Fishing can scour the bottom, destroy rocky reefs, and disrupt complex ecological relationships.

No-take marine reserves are needed to help address all of these problems. They can prevent overfishing by providing a hedge against uncertain stock assessments, rebuild depleted stocks by allowing older and more productive individuals to survive, alleviate the impacts of fishing on habitat, provide critical information on those impacts, and provide a refuge for bycaught species.

Although the eight US regional fishery management councils made progress toward implementing the tough new conservation requirements of the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act, some councils missed the Act’s October 13 deadline and some councils have submitted or are poised to submit new fishery management plans or plan amendments that fall short of the conservation requirements. The Federal law set a 24 month deadline for the councils to submit new management plans or plan amendments to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, identify and protect essential fish habitat, and minimize bycatch.