|Last night the U.S. Senate passed FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations legislation that will fund the federal government through September 30, 2014. The House passed the same bill on Wednesday and so the bill will now proceed to the White House for the President to sign into law.
The Explanatory Statement (Conference Report) issued by the House/Senate managers of the bill includes language requested by the Southern Shrimp Alliance that directs NOAA to–
“…maintain full funding for the continued installation of electronic logbooks…. which are inherent to NOAA’s core mission and essential to the implementation of current fishery regulations.”
This language was preceded by similar language included at SSA’s request in July 2013 in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Report accompanying their FY 2014 Commerce, Justice Science (CJS) appropriations bill.
Over the years, SSA and the Gulf and South Atlantic shrimp fisheries have developed profound trust and confidence in the electronic logbook program developed by LGL Ecological under Dr. Benny Gallaway’s leadership and the data it generated. The technology and industry-interface aspects of this program performed extremely well and consistently produced precise, highly reliable data on shrimp fishing effort that was of impeccable integrity. This data has been used by the agency for years with great success to meet several core statutory scientific and management responsibilities including shrimp stock assessments, red snapper rebuilding and sea turtle protection measures. The loss or even interruption of such high quality data would put the shrimp fishery at risk of substantial time and area closures through a number of regulatory mechanisms now in place.
For that reason, SSA invested substantially in ensuring that Congress and, once earmarks were banned, NMFS maintained funding for the LGL program in every year since its inception in 2007, notwithstanding the ever deteriorating budgetary situation in Washington.
SSA also fought vigorously on numerous fronts against the premature implementation of the new NMFS program which is based on unproven technology with no industry interface and a shift in some cost responsibilities from the agency on to the industry. This included SSA’s aggressive efforts on the Gulf Council’s Shrimp Advisory Panel which generated a strong recommendation to the Council to maintain the LGL Program as its strongly preferred option. Unfortunately, at the urging of NMFS, members of the Council’s Shrimp Committee and ultimately the full Council voted to approve moving forward with the agency’s proposal – unless funding for the LGL program could be found. Unfortunately, the agency then terminated the LGL Program on December 31, 2013, before this Congressional directive to maintain full funding could be enacted.
Given the uncertainties associated with the new technology and the magnitude of what is at stake for both the shrimp fishery and the agency’s legal responsibilities, SSA continues to believe that the agency should implement a transition program from the well-proven LGL program to the new program. Such a transition would safeguard the shrimp industry against unforeseen problems with the new technology including data collection, transmission and analysis. It would be the prudent thing to do for all parties. Unfortunately, the agency has rejected all requests for a transition.
Although the new program was supposed to begin January 1, 2014, in order to prevent any interruption in the data, under the agency’s current timeline the new program will not be fully implemented on the water at the soonest until about the end of April. This will result in a substantial interruption in the collection of electronic logbook data, putting the integrity of the data and the shrimp fishery at risk.
SSA’s original intent in requesting the Committee and Conference Report language cited above was for NMFS to maintain full funding for -and implementation of – the LGL Program in 2014. Given these new developments and all that is at stake, SSA again calls for the agency to use this Congressional directive to maintain full funding in 2014 as a clear basis to implement a common-sense transition from the LGL program to the new technology that extends at least through 2014.