US Federal Fisheries Meet FAO Guidelines for Sustainability

23 March 2016, at 12:00am

US - US-based NOAA Fisheries self-assessment of US federal fishery management found that overall, the fisheries could be considered biologically sustainable and well-managed, meeting FAO guidelines for sustainable fisheries. Although the assessment, which was led by Dr Michelle Walsh, was conducted by NOAA Fisheries itself, it was independently peer-reviewed by the Center for Independent Experts, who were in general agreement with the assessments methodology and findings.

The FAO ‘Guidelines for the Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries’ is a voluntary scheme outlining principles, minimum requirements, and institutional/procedural aspects of ecolabelling fishery products from marine capture fisheries.

Calling for transparency, the use of third party scientific fishery assessments, and consistency with the FAO ‘Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries’, the FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines are widely accepted as the benchmark for certification schemes such as the Marine Stewardship Council, as well as for assessing fisheries sustainability throughout the world.

Although the FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines only address the biological dimension of sustainability in fisheries, NOAA’s self-assessment also assessed the social and economic aspects that are important to fisheries sustainability.

Responsibility for sustainable harvest, conservation, and protection of living marine resources in the US Exclusive Economic Zone is placed with NOAA Fisheries under The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Under the Act, NOAA Fisheries have adopted a science-based approach to fisheries management is adopted to prevent overfishing, and rebuilding overfished stocks. In relation to the FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines, this strong science-based approach has provided NOAA Fisheries management system with a number of key strengths.

These include the use of the best available scientific evidence to determine conservation and management measures, incorporating uncertainty into stock reference points and catch limits, and taking action if catch limits are exceeded. NOAA Fisheries were also noted to match requirements for compliance with local, national, and international laws, as well as “developing and abiding by documented management approaches with frameworks at local, national, and regional levels”.

The success of NOAA Fisheries management in promoting sustainable fisheries is echoed in stock assessments, which show improvements throughout the country. In 2014, NOAA Fisheries noted that just 8% of stocks were subject to overfishing (in which in which fishing mortality rates is greater than the level associated with the maximum sustainable yield), and 16% overfished (in which a stocks biomass is so low that its capacity to continually produce maximum sustainable yield is hampered).

Fisheries management is an ever-evolving process, and one in which there is always improvements that can be made. The assessment also identified a number of areas of “future considerations” for NOAA Fisheries.

These included improving assessment methods for data-poor stocks, incorporating broader food web considerations in individual fish stock management schemes, giving consideration to long-term changes in productivity, and implementation of ecosystem-based management approaches across the nation.

Thinking in terms of the human dimension for fisheries management, identifying funding assistance for small-scale fishers, increasing stakeholder involvement, and increasing transparency of decision-making and rationale.