Boston — Under the guise of updating procedures, the Bush administration is pushing changes which could dramatically weaken protections against overfishing already depleted ocean stocks, according to public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The thrust of the Bush plan would cede more control to the fishing industry over environmental harvest limits.
The deadline for public comment on the Bush-sponsored revisions ends August 12, 2008. Today, a coalition of conservation groups delivered thousands of protest letters to regional offices of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) whose National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is charged with conserving ocean fish populations. In Boston, comments were loaded onto a boat in Boston Harbor for delivery to the Gloucester offices of NMFS.
Although Congress mandated updating of environmental review procedures for marine fisheries management, that update was supposed to encourage ecosystem management of ocean resources and strengthen rather than sap safeguards against over-fishing. Nearly a year past the congressionally mandated due date, the Bush administration unveiled a plan that –
- Puts the fishing industry, rather than NOAA, in charge of framing assessments of the effects of management policies, including deciding the scope, timing and standard of evaluation for environmental reviews. This change, in essence, privatizes management of ocean fisheries;
- Expands loopholes for avoiding any environmental reviews on a host of fishery actions; and
- Cuts the ability of outside researchers, conservation groups and the public to review and comment on fishery management decisions.
“This is a lame duck gift to the fishing industry,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former federal biologist. “This plan represents a U-turn away from public interest regulation of marine resources most imperiled by commercial over-exploitation.”
The schedule for this plan will likely have it finalized in late October, just before the self-imposed November 1st moratorium by the Bush administration for adopting new rules and in a timeframe that will hamper any congressional review until 2009, at the earliest.
In a similar vein the Bush administration is also privatizing the monitoring of commercial fishing vessels to ensure compliance with catch limits, by-catch rules and regulations protecting marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds and other non-commercial sea life. There are growing calls in Congress to remove NOAA from the industry-friendly Commerce Department and create a strong national oceans policy.
“Only the Bush administration would champion privatizing the oceans,” Bennett added. “The declining state of our seas calls for bold national leadership and international cooperation rather than the abdication of responsibilities reflected here.”