The Associated Press April 26, 2011, 1:02PM ET

Review: Accountability needed in fish rule making

An independent review of the bureaucracy that devises New England's fishing rules is calling for numerous reforms, including more accountability about whether the regulations actually work.

Other recommendations in the report released Tuesday included improving the timeliness and confidence in the science used as the basis for regulations, and a greater emphasis on developing and serving the fishing industry.

Eric Schwaab, the head the National Marine Fisheries Services, ordered the review last year after the chair of New England's regional rulemaking body called the management process "antiquated and ineffective" in a 2009 letter.

On Tuesday, Schwaab announced several recommendations in response to the new report, including increasing direct contact with fishermen, improving scientific collaboration with the industry and making data collection easier so rulemakers can work with the most recent information.

Schwaab was clear that real change won't be immediate.

"The challenges we face in New England, home of the nation's oldest fishing communities, did not happen overnight," he said. "Lasting solutions will take some time."

The review comes as New England nears the April 30 end of the first fishing year under a controversial management system in which most fishermen divided into groups, called sectors, and divided an allotted catch of each species. The system aims to give fishermen flexibility as species rebuild, but some fishermen say the allotments were set unfairly low and are killing the industry.

The review released Tuesday followed a December 2009 letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke by John Pappalardo, chair of the New England Fishery Management Council.

Pappalardo argued that the tangled bureaucracy simply wasn't up to the task of enforcing the many new requirements of the nation's fishing laws, calling the system driven by "process and protocol," not outcomes.

The review was conducted by Preston Pate, former chair of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and included interviews with 179 people involved in management -- including fishermen, federal regulators and researchers.

His report assessed the relationship between federal regulators, scientists and the regional management council.

The review praised the "dedicated staff within each organization," as well as the transparency of the rulemaking process and increasing scientific collaboration with fishermen.

But it found efforts were being duplicated throughout the system, and said they lacked a shared strategy and vision for success. It called for "defining clear, objective criteria for determining the success of a management decision."

Pate's report said regulators needed to focus on serving the fishing industry and suggested the fisheries service re-establish "development of the commercial fishing industry" as part of its mission.

It also said regulators need to build confidence among fishermen that the data they collect on the fish stocks is sound, and also shrink the gap between when the science is collected, and when it can actually be used by decision makers.

Pate's report noted it had looked at past reviews, and that they'd arrived at "similar conclusions."

"This indicates that little change had been made over the years, and that for improvements to be made all stakeholders must work together," it said.


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