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The Dominance of Big Fishing Interests in the U.S.

February 28, 2012

An interesting review of the Magnuson-Stevens Act points out the structural flaws in the U.S. Regional Fishery Management Councils.  Specifically, there is an odd – in fact intended – dominance of big fishing interests in decision-making.

In an analysis of appointed Council voting members representation between 1990 and 2001, Okey found that commercial fishing interests made up 49% of the total members, recreational fishing interests made up 33%, and all “other” interests combined made up 17%. The “other”, according to NMFS categories for appointing voting members of the eight Regional Councils, includes experts in “biological, economic, or social sciences; environmental or ecological matters; consumer affairs; and associated field”. The result of this general “commercial interests” dominance is that the interests within this category are skewed towards larger corporate interests supporting larger-sized vessel, while the small-scale vessels fleets and many other sectors of fishing-dependent communities are poorly represented. It is clear that the present imbalance in representation within all Regional Councils is a consequence of the historical drivers that led to the creation of the Act, and its possible weaknesses…In fact, a formula for assessing representation of whole Regional Councils is not explicitly provided in the legislation, and representation is basically the result of political and economic powers. The most explicit mandate of the US Secretary of Commerce regarding representation of interests on Councils is that apportionment among the extractive user groups be fair and balanced, while representation of all other non-extractive interests is discussed as optional and is not explicitly mandated. [Bold added]

To solve this:

The simplest solution would be to develop an explicit formula that could be inserted into fisheries management legislation requirements, perhaps clearly inserted in NS4 requirements and also in the MSA Section 302(b)(2)(B), in order to ensure a broader and more balanced representation of interests with the objectives of preventing fishing industry interests to prevail, while still encouraging participatory co-management. However, to our knowledge, such restructuring has not been tested yet, but has been discussed several times during previous Act reauthorization processes.

Andrea Dell’Apa,, Lisa Schiavinato, & Roger A. Rulifson (2011). The Magnuson–Stevens act (1976) and its reauthorizations: Failure or success for the implementation of fishery sustainability and management in the US? Marine Policy, 36 (3), 673-680 : 10.1016/j.marpol.2011.11.002

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