[The following is excerpted from an open letter to Congress from U.S. marine scientists.]
Dear Senators and Representatives: As scientists engaged in the provision of information to support federally managed fisheries, we are concerned that Title II of the proposed Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act (H.R.8632), which would require the establishment of marine protected areas that ban all commercial fishing activity in 30% of U.S. ocean waters by 2030, is not based on the best scientific information available and would not be the most effective way to protect marine biodiversity.
Conservation of marine ecosystems in the U.S. waters is challenged by a rapidly changing climate, but the proposed marine protected areas will not solve climate-related impacts on biodiversity, instead they will decrease flexibility of the fishery management system to adapt to climate change.
The most significant impact of marine protected areas is a spatial shift in fishing, which is effectively a fisheries management action. Marine biodiversity is protected by the mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and other legislation. The implementation of those requirements with respect to fisheries impacts is through the regional Fisheries Management Council system to protect target species, bycatch species, protected species, ecosystem components, essential fish habitat and other sensitive habitats.
Although several U.S. fish stocks have been overfished, the fisheries are highly regulated to avoid overfishing and rebuild stocks with a precautionary approach. A large portion of U.S. waters are currently closed to fishing, either seasonally or year-round. A prevalent impact of climate change in the U.S. has been shifting spatial distributions, generally northerly and to deeper habitats. Many fisheries are flexible enough to adapt to such shifts, but the proposed extension of permanent marine protected areas would prohibit many adaptive responses to climate change. Based on our experiences and case studies, marine protected areas that are not based on the best scientific information available, such as the uninformed target of restricting commercial fishing in 30% of U.S. waters, will have unanticipated consequences such as increased bycatch and habitat destruction by shifting the location of fishing effort.
Title II of the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act is predicated on a view that marine biodiversity in the U.S. EEZ is decreasing but provides no evidence that this is true. It is well established that targeted U.S. fish stocks are rebuilding and on average above target levels. A high proportion of benthic habitat and benthic ecosystems are already protected throughout the U.S. EEZ, and the non-target species of conservation concern are governed by other legislation, including the Endangered Species Act. Title II provides no evidence that biodiversity will be increased by more MPAs and provides no metrics for how the impact of additional MPAs would be evaluated.
Judith R. Amesbury, Micronesian Archaeological Research Services, Guam
David Bethoney, Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation
Debra T. Cabrera, University of Guam
Steven X. Cadrin, University of Massachusetts
Paul Callaghan, University of Guam Yong Chen, University of Maine
Charles Daxboeck, Biodax Consulting
David Fluharty, University of Washington
Daniel Georgianna, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
David Itano, Opah Consulting
Brad Harris, Alaska Pacific University
Ray Hilborn, University of Washington
Pierre Kleiber, NOAA retired
Olaf Jensen, University of Wisconsin
Bill Karp, NOAA retired
Kai Lorenzen, University of Florida
Franz Mueter, University of Alaska
Robert D. Murphy, Alaska Pacific University
Catherine E. O’Keefe, Fishery Applications Consulting Team
Richard Parrish, NOAA retired
Eric N. Powell, University of Southern Mississippi
Craig Severance, University of Hawaii Hilo
John Sibert, University of Hawaii (retired)
Robert Skillman, NOAA retired
Kevin Stokesbury, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Robert Trumble, MRAG America (retired)
Vidar G. Wespestad, NOAA retired
Michael Wilberg, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science