Story last updated at 6/5/2013 - 2:09 pm
You might not notice much fanfare, but today, Wednesday the 5th, is a big day for Juneau. It is the opening day of the 214th plenary session of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council - meeting in Juneau for the first time in more than 20 years. As Regional Administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region, and on behalf of the City and Borough of Juneau, I'd like to welcome the Council and meeting attendees to Southeast Alaska.
Alaska's federally-managed fisheries are known worldwide as being among the most sustainable and valuable fisheries on the planet-worth billions to the U.S. economy and an important component of Alaska's seafood industry, the largest private sector employer in the State. In fact, about 60 percent of all seafood caught in U.S. waters comes from Alaska.
The NPFMC plays a lead role in the sustainable management of Alaska's billion-dollar fisheries. It is one of eight regional fishery management councils established when Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, originally enacted in 1976. Alaska's very own Senator Ted Stevens was one of the co-authors of this act. The Magnuson-Stevens Act established the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone from 3-200 nautical miles offshore. This law, reauthorized twice and currently undergoing reauthorization hearings in Congress, is essentially our country's roadmap to sustainable management of our nation's fisheries. It directs NOAA Fisheries and the Councils to work together to get the most out of our fisheries for food and economic well-being, while conserving ecosystem health and fish stocks for continued productivity to benefit future generations of fishing families and coastal communities.
Anyone involved in fisheries can attest to how complicated fisheries management can be. Here is a simple explanation of how NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region, part of the Department of Commerce, works. NOAA scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center - working with State and academic partners - do the science, which supports Alaska's fisheries management decisions. They conduct surveys aboard research vessels to gather information needed to determine stock assessments for fish species in Alaska waters. Our scientists also monitor populations of marine mammals and study other marine life, such as phytoplankton - all-important ingredients in a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem.
This scientific information is then provided to the NPFMC. The Council, along with its scientific and advisory committees, is made up of all the key stakeholders in Alaska's fisheries - folks from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska; from environmental groups, Alaska Native entities, recreational and commercial fishing interests, NOAA Fisheries and other federal agencies, and one of our most important partners, the State of Alaska. We all work together to develop alternatives for the best management of Alaska's fisheries. Members of the public are encouraged to provide input into the fishery management process through comments and public testimony at Council meetings. The Council considers a wide range of factors - from health of fishery stocks to economic impacts of fishery practices - when making decisions on research priorities, management, and regulations.
NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office then works to implement those decisions.
This fishery management council process set up through the Magnuson-Stevens Act is unique in the federal government as an advisory mechanism that brings all stakeholders to the table to roll-up their sleeves and participate in the fishery management decisions. Sometimes we hit some rough seas and rarely is it smooth sailing, but the bottom line is...it works, and it is a process we constantly strive to improve.
I invite you to stop by Centennial Hall in Juneau this week to see first-hand your fishery management process at work. We'll also be tweeting from the Council meeting. You can follow us on Twitter @NOAAFisheriesAK.
Here are some important links you can visit to find out more about what we do and why:
Alaska Fisheries Science Center: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/
North Pacific Fishery Management Council: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/
We hope that the next time you sit down to a plate of U.S.-caught, sustainably managed wild seafood (hopefully from Alaska's fisheries), you'll think of us and all the science and teamwork that has gone into bringing that seafood to your table.
Dr. James Balsiger is the Regional Administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries. He lives and works in Juneau.