NOAA 99-064
Contact: Gordon Helm

Report supported by members of conservation, fishing communities

A NOAA-funded independent report analyzing U.S. fishing subsidies should play a strong role in efforts to right-size the U.S. fishing fleet, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today. The report is also expected to assist NOAA Fisheries managers as they develop domestic programs for meeting international plans of action to reduce world fishing capacity.

The United States is spearheading international efforts to deal with the global problem of "too many fishing boats chasing too few fish." At the same time, NOAA Fisheries managers are seeking tools that will help reduce excess fleet capacity in many domestic marine fisheries.

"One of the greatest concerns for the future of the world's oceans is overharvesting of marine resources. In many cases, fishing subsidies encourage too many boats to enter a fishery and can undermine conservation," said Terry D. Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and chief U.S. negotiator for the international plans of action. "We have pushed the international community to address this concern. This report will help us domestically to live up to our international leadership role."

The findings of the Federal Fisheries Investment Task Force Report to Congress are expected to help the Congress and the Administration in their reviews of domestic programs that may contribute to overcapacity and overcapitalization. Having too many fishing boats or too many harvest permits in a marine fishery makes it difficult for fishermen to make a living and may impede progress toward realizing a key Magnuson-Stevens Act goal -- reducing and eliminating overfishing in U.S. commercial fisheries.

By "right-sizing" the fleet, the number of fishermen will be balanced with the number of fish that can be harvested at sustainable levels.

"It's important to remember that most fishing subsidies were created to promote development and improve the competitiveness of the U.S. fishing industry," said Penny Dalton, NOAA Fisheries director. "Our programs are considered modest compared to those of many of the world's fishing nations, but they need to be updated to ensure that they meet our mandates to build and maintain healthy fisheries and level the playing field for U.S. fishermen."

As required by the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, the Federal Investment Study was conducted by a representative group of interested non-government parties to study how U.S. government subsidies and other programs influenced both the expansion and contraction of levels of fishing capacity and investments (capitalization) in federally managed fisheries. To ensure the widest possible participation in the preparation of the report, the assignment was given to a task force of 22 experts who represented NOAA Fisheries' constituencies, each geographic region and most major fisheries. NOAA Fisheries managers believe that such an outside review of sensitive government programs enhances the practical value of the report.

Once the Secretary of Commerce selected the task force members, the task force independently conducted its study and submitted its report. Today's action by the Secretary officially forwards the task force's report to Congress.

Representatives of The World Wildlife Fund, a national conservation group, and the National Fisheries Institute, representing many of the nation's fishermen and dealers, participated in the preparation of the independent Congressional report and support many of the report's recommendations for future action.

The United States recently led the world's major fishing nations to a series of agreements under the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Office regarding marine resource issues, and completed negotiations for international plans of action to reduce excess world fishing-fleet capacity and improve international conservation and management of sharks and seabirds.