The White House has recently proposed a new rule for oversight of marine fisheries. The new rule would gut the protections that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has long provided ocean ecosystems and the seabirds and other wildlife that depend on them. Under the new rule, the ability of the public to have input into the future of our oceans would be severely limited and oversight of marine fisheries would be largely given over to regional fishery management councils — the equivalent of having the fox guard the hen house.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires government agencies to analyze the likely environmental effects of their actions and to seek public input into their decisions. The proposed rule would exempt certain categories of fisheries from environmental review altogether and weaken the requirements for environmental reviews of fisheries across the board. The proposed new rule would also severely limit the ability of the public to give input into any decisions made.
NEPA’s review process has successfully protected ocean ecosystems in the past. By mandating that impacts to birds and other ocean wildlife be considered when fishing regulations are made, NEPA can help birds and other wildlife while creating a more sustainable ocean system. Nineteen of the twenty-two species of albatross are already threatened with extinction due to long-line fishing techniques that accidentally catch and drown the birds. On the East Coast of the United States, the rufa Red Knot is threatened by overfishing of its main food source, horseshoe crabs. It is vital for our seabirds that we do not weaken environmental oversight of the fishing industry.