NOAA Fisheries releases equity and environmental justice strategy

Salmon being harvested in Western Alaska.

NOAA Fisheries released its first Equity and Environmental Justice Strategy on 22 May, with the goal of ensuring the agency is treating all communities equitably.

“The federal government recognizes that barriers to equity have left many communities underserved, and they are often the most vulnerable to environmental issues, such as climate change,” the strategy reads.

According to NOAA Fisheries Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs Sam Rauch, the agency first needs to determine which communities have been historically underserved. 

“In our strategy we talk about the various barriers, and the first one is not knowing who the actual underserved communities are,” Rauch said at the unveiling of the draft strategy in August 2022. “The president has given a long list of underserved communities which I’m not going to read here – different racial groups, different economic groups, different other kinds of groups, anybody who has historically been underserved by the government could be a part of this.”

The agency has traditionally focused on areas with higher levels of economic development and population, meaning smaller groups like territorial islanders in the Caribbean and the Pacific have received fewer resources, Rauch said.

“One of the things we want to look at is, can we bring more of the NOAA goods and services to those areas where we traditionally have not?” Rauch said.

The strategy identifies three overarching goals for the agency:

  • Prioritize identification, equitable treatment, and meaningful involvement of underserved communities;
  • Provide equitable delivery of services; and
  • Prioritize equity and environmental justice in our mandated and mission work with demonstrable progress.

In response to the report, NOAA is considering making changes to national standards on equity and environmental justice. Earlier this month, NOAA Fisheries requested public input on a number of issues, including equity in the representation of local fishing communities. The agency will accept comments through 12 September, 2023.

“Several ongoing fishing management challenges, including changes in environmental conditions, shifting distributions of fish stocks, and equity and environmental justice considerations that affect fishing communities that are currently or have been historically dependent on the resource, suggest a need to revisit the guidelines to ensure they remain appropriate for current U.S. fisheries management,” NOAA Fisheries said in the announcement.

Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Executive Director Kevin Whitworth pointed to NOAA Fisheries’ prioritization of pollock trawlers over the needs of Tribes as one example.

“We’ve seen multiple species of salmon dramatically decline on the Kuskokwim in recent decades, including chinook and chum salmon, both of which are caught as bycatch by the Bering Sea pollock trawl fleet,” Whitworth said in a statement. “These declines are devastating for our communities and our ways of life, and they’re happening in part because marine managers at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries do not equitably consider our traditional foods or our Tribes when making decisions about pollock allocation. Revising these national standards may bring the change we need to see in fisheries management to protect our salmon and cultures.”

Photo courtesy of Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission


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