Letter to Senator Richard Shelby on Funding Priorities for the FY 15 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Act

Senator Richard Shelby
304 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Shelby:

As you prepare your funding priorities for the FY 15 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Act, I encourage you to consider a plus-up in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) budget of $2 million to be used for an electronic data collection program for the federally-permitted charter boat fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. This program has broad support from the charter-for-hire, seafood, environmental and regulatory communities across all five Gulf states and is ready to roll out immediately once funding is made available.

Verifiable, timely and enforceable fisheries data are necessary to make proper management decisions that will protect the longevity of our marine ecosystems while keeping up with demand from fishermen and the broader seafood supply chain. Unfortunately, fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are woefully data-poor which has left resource managers ill-equipped to make fair management decisions that accurately reflect the needs of our fisheries and our fishing communities. Methods to independently verify self-reported fisheries data are needed to certify whether a true and accurate accounting of catch and effort is achieved.

In recent years, there has been a drive towards instituting data collection programs based on electronic monitoring and reporting of fisheries landings and effort. In fact, during a February, 2014 meeting, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved motions to require electronic reporting for federally-permitted charter-for-hire vessels and to direct staff at the Southeast Fishery Science Center to develop a framework action to establish electronic reporting or other approved methods within the federally-permitted charter fishery. Further, the environmental community, fishermen, stakeholders and the vast majority of charter-for-hire vessel owners in the Gulf have come out in support of employing new technology that would make accountable, verifiable electronic monitoring for the charter-for-hire community in the Gulf a reality. The latest technology has built-in quality control features and can be as simple as a smart phone application that allows fishermen to quickly and accurately report their catch to a secure database administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Installation is straightforward, the technology is ready to roll out and vessel owners are ready.

The $2 million plus-up in FY 2015 funding would cover two priorities: 1) providing subsidies to the charter-for-hire fleet to purchase the electronic data collection instruments, and 2) providing NMFS with the funding to implement a program to process the information and convert it into landings and estimates data. This overall program would bring an antiquated data collection system based on telephone surveys into the twenty first century and give fishery managers much more accurate information on which to base future management decisions.

With this letter, I ask that you make this funding request a top priority when considering the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Act. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or for more information on this important program.

Sincerely,

Harlon Pearce
Chairman, Gulf Seafood Institute

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