Oceana hails the decision made by Congress today that more than doubles the funding for federal fishery observer programs. Fishery observers are independent scientists who work alongside fishermen at sea to collect data on what is caught incidentally and thrown overboard on a fishing vessel. This increase in funding, made in the 2004 omnibus appropriations bill, is a significant first step towards improved management of our nation’s fisheries.
The funding for fishery observer programs was increased from approximately $14 million to more than $29 million. The most significant funding increase occurred in the New England groundfish fishery, previously not specifically funded in the federal budget, which will now receive $9.5 million. Those funds will help address a court order requiring the Administration to comply, by May 2004, with the statutory mandate for observer coverage. The $29 million also includes an increase from $3.7 million to $5 million for the West Coast fisheries and $3.8 million for a national initiative to reduce bycatch, of which funding for observer programs is available.
“This is a huge victory for fishermen and the long-term health of the ocean,” said Jay Nelson, Oceana’s vice president for Oceana’s North America office. “Congress clearly understands that on-board observers are the best way to get information essential to fishery managers so they can restore depleted fisheries and prevent the economic and ecological collapse that has been too common in many historic fishing regions.”
Although approximately 300 U.S. federally-managed fisheries exist, there are only about 20 observer programs -- most of which need to be expanded drastically to provide more complete and reliable information. A critical issue for managers is determining how to produce reliable and accurate results from observer programs in many different fisheries, each with unique characteristics.
Earlier this year Oceana released a scientific study authored by premier fishery assessment scientists Elizabeth Babcock and Ellen Pikitch and Oceana wildlife scientist, Charlotte Hudson. This report provides guidelines for one of the greatest unsolved problems in fisheries management – how to gather precise and accurate data on how many fish are caught by fishermen. The report was distributed to Congress to help bolster support for additional funding for observer programs.
“These funding levels provide a significant base on which we can build to reach full-funding for all fishery observer programs,” said Nelson. “While the bill currently does not provide enough funding to provide effective data in all our fisheries, it’s an enormous step in the right direction.”
Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the world's oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana's constituency includes members and activists from more than 150 countries and territories who are committed to saving the world’s marine environment. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas; a South American office in Santiago, Chile; and a European office in Madrid, Spain. For more information, please visit www.Oceana.org or call (202) 833-3900