Members of the U.S. Senate got their first chance to look at the latest attempt to merge NMFS with the Fish and Wildlife Service at a meeting on Thursday, July 19.

Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met to discuss the Trump administration’s plan to revamp agencies within the Department of Interior, which is where the proposed merged agency would be located. Two Democratic committee members spoke out against the proposal during the hearing.

A merger of the two agencies requires approval of the U.S. Congress.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking minority member on the committee, said a merged FWS-NMFS could trigger laying off thousands of workers and create “more bureaucratic mismanagement” of fisheries.

“Moving NOAA Fisheries from [the Department of] Commerce to the Department of Interior ignores the agency’s responsibility of managing multi-billion-dollar commercial fisheries,” said Cantwell, who added that she believes what fisheries need is “science and funding.”

Susan Combs, a senior advisor in Interior Department, said in her opening remarks that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has reviewed the agency’s operations and sought to modernize it in order to serve the country well for the 21st century.

“The secretary’s vision is to establish science-based unified regional boundaries, where priority decision making is made at the local level with informed centralized coordination,” Combs said.

Proponents of merger say the new agency would allow for better management of the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection acts, as both agencies currently share management responsibilities for those laws. A merger also would streamline the permitting process and, they add, work better with key interest groups within the fishing industry.

A 2013 Government Accountability Office report looking into a similar merger proposal also noted that a combined agency would improve management of some federal regulations. However, after interviewing members of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, the GAO report also cast doubt on whether a merged agency would create enough efficiencies to outweigh the risks.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) mentioned the GAO report in her questions to Combs.

Combs said she was not aware of anything that’s changed in those five years and added that she had not been personally involved in the current discussions regarding those two agencies. However, she noted that from the Trump administration’s perspective, it makes sense because of their administrative authorities over the ESA and MMPA.

“We will work with everyone in Congress to see what it is you ultimately decide to do,” Combs said.


This article was originally published on Seafood Source and is republished here with permission.

Steve Bittenbender works as a freelance journalist based in Louisville, Kentucky. Besides working for SeafoodSource.com as a contributing editor, Steve also works as an editor for Government Security News and as the Kentucky correspondent for the Reuters News Service.

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