NOAA has the way, but not the will


Jessica Hathaway

Published on
September 20, 2010

NOAA has the authority to increase catch limits in response to an emergency, according to the Congressional Research Service.

That’s because the Magnuson-Stevens Act, for all it does define, never gets around to defining what constitutes an emergency.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) raised the issue with the CRS, which was chartered almost a century ago to provide research and analysis to lawmakers and their staffs.

The exchange came to our attention via a Web posting by the New Bedford, Mass.-based Project to Save Seafood and Ocean Resources.

“It appears possible,” the CRS said, “that action taken by the Secretary in response to an economic ‘emergency’ could likely withstand judicial review, so long as the Secretary’s determination that the conditions in question constituted an 'emergency' was a reasonable one.”

The CRS cites Section 305(c) of Magnuson-Stevens, which says that if “the Secretary finds that emergency exists… he may promulgate emergency regulations… necessary to address the emergency… without regard to whether a fishery management plan exists for such fishery,” and notes that the regional councils have similar authority.

Emergency regulations are effective 180 days and may be extended for 186 more, the CRS says.

Swords cut two ways and this one is no different. What NOAA can or should do is not what NOAA will or must do.If, under the auspices of Jane Lubchenco, the agency is at all sensitive to the economic emergency facing New England fishermen, it is news to me.

It’s much more likely that if  NOAA is successful in New England — which is to say, if enough beleaguered fishermen can be forced out of the fishery — fishermen in other struggling regions of the country will find the shadow of NOAA’s crosshairs falling across their chests.

Thank you for your time.

Jerry Fraser
Editor & Publisher, National Fisherman


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