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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration New England Fishery Rule

Rating: Molehill

The Charge

In April 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was accused of choosing politics over science in its revision of interim measures for the protection of northeastern U.S. groundfish stocks for fishing year 2009.1,2  In September 2008, the New England Fishery Management Council, a council established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and responsible for managing northeastern fisheries, requested that NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) develop an interim rule for the management of New England fish stocks.3  The council needed more time to complete work on their own management plan.4

NMFS proposed a plan in January 2009, but under the direction of newly appointed NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, NMFS revised the January proposal in order to lesson the negative economic impact on the fishing community.5  Instead of a 20 percent reduction in fishing revenues that would have occurred if the January proposal was implemented, the final interim rule reduces fishing revenues by 8 percent;6 the New England Fishery Management Council had recommended that the interim rule reduce fishing revenues by 8 percent.  Though representatives of the environmental community and the fishing industry applauded Lubchenco’s ability to balance economic and environmental concerns,7 the Obama administration was accused of basing its decisions on politics and not following through on promises to follow science-based policies.8

Is it political interference in science?

No. There is no evidence that NMFS attempted to manipulate or suppress science in its decision to lesson the economic impact of its interim rule. A NOAA spokeswoman stated that although the interim rule changed, "the science is still the same."9  This indicates that the NMFS’s decision took into account economic considerations, but NMFS did not manipulate or interfere in the science regarding the decision. Unlike decisions to place species on the endangered species list, laws governing fisheries management allow for the balancing of economic impacts to communities and environmental interests.10  While conservation policy should always be informed by the best available science, science is not always the only factor considered when making policy.

What is the best way to ensure scientific integrity?

NOAA and NMFS should consider the best available science in its policy decisions and fully explain the reasoning behind policy decisions which do not follow purely scientific recommendations.  Federal agencies should never attempt to manipulate or suppress the science related to any agency decision. 


For more analysis of scientific integrity charges against the Obama administration, see the Mountain or Molehill feature.

 

  1. Freddoso, D. 2009. "Political Science: Despite his protestations, Obama's science policy is driven by raw politics." National Review Online, April 16.
  2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 2009a. "NOAA Announces Interim Rules to Reduce Overfishing and Rebuild Northeast Groundfish Stocks While Balancing Economic and Conservation Measures." April 6.
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 2009b. "Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; Secretarial Interim Action; Final Rule." Federal Register vol. 74, No. 69.  50 CFR Part 648, April 13.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. NOAA 2009a.
  7. The PEW Charitable Trusts. 2009. "Pew Statement on the National Marine Fisheries Service Final Interim Rule for Groundfish Management during the 2009 Fishing Year." Online April 6. Fraser, D. "Revised Bay State fishery limits softened." Cape Cod Times, April 7.
  8. Freddoso 2009.
  9. Ibid.
  10. NOAA 2009b.

 

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