NOAA Fisheries collaboratively manages U.S. fisheries with fishery management councils, fisheries commissions, and state partners. The New England Fishery Management Council is developing Amendment 23 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan. Through this amendment, the Council is evaluating the current groundfish monitoring program and considering changes to improve the monitoring system. Early discussions during the development of Amendment 23 revealed that industry members wanted more information about our current monitoring system. The groundfish monitoring system is complex, and since the at-sea monitoring program is industry-funded, changes to this program have implications for the industry. Communication is key to our work and we always strive to do a better job communicating about our programs and systems. The development of this amendment presents an opportunity for us to improve understanding about our monitoring programs. We can also help industry and other stakeholders engage in the development of Amendment 23.
Creating a Plan to Improve Communication about Monitoring and Amendment 23
In 2018, we contracted with a team of public outreach specialists from Vision Planning and Consulting, LLC (VPC). They helped us develop a strategic communications plan to improve the way we communicate about groundfish monitoring and Amendment 23. We developed the plan to ensure that members of the industry, particularly those who may not always participate in Council meetings, have the information they need to engage meaningfully in the management process.
Plan Development Process
We worked together with VPC to collect information on:
- How we were already communicating about monitoring.
- What our communication needs were for Amendment 23.
- What information we would like to learn from stakeholders.
- What our goals were for our new communications plan.
Public Involvement in the Plan Development Process
In order to improve communication and provide helpful information to stakeholders, we needed to ask people what they want to know and how they would like to receive that information:
- What aspects of our current monitoring program, analyses, or processes do industry members want more information on?
- How would industry members like us to communicate with them? Would they prefer workshops, websites, printed materials, question and answer sessions, or another method? How frequently would stakeholders like to receive information from us?
VPC conducted a series of confidential phone interviews with key stakeholders to learn more about their concerns and recommendations for our communications plan. VPC also designed an online survey to solicit feedback from the public on how we could improve our communication with stakeholders.
Our Strategic Communications Plan
The information gathered from industry members through the plan development process was used by VPC to develop recommendations and action items for our communications plan. Our strategic communications plan includes the following goals and objectives to guide our communication efforts around groundfish monitoring and Amendment 23:
- Goal 1: Ensure that the public is informed about the current monitoring program and how to participate in the Amendment 23 process.
- Objectives: Promote the purpose and need for the development of Amendment 23. Facilitate the involvement of stakeholders, wherever possible, throughout the Amendment 23 development process.
- Goal 2: Clarify for the public how catch data is used, and how this data can potentially affect stock assessments.
- Objectives: Educate stakeholders and the public on the data analysis process, modeling techniques, and final results. Articulate clearly to the stakeholders the potential benefits to the fishery of increased monitoring and accountability.
- Goal 3: Increase effective outreach and communications with the fishing industry.
- Objectives: Identify gaps and needs in the communications cycle between stakeholders and us. Promote best practices for the communication of fisheries information, monitoring benefits, and the Amendment 23 development process to stakeholders.
The plan also identified a list of suggested high-priority action items that we could address in order to improve communication during the development of Amendment 23. Many of these action items focus on creating new platforms for us to distribute information. This will ensure that we communicate about deadlines and other events in a timely manner, and provide additional information about scientific analyses and monitoring technologies.
We have created a dedicated Amendment 23 website to collect important information in one place for stakeholders. The website includes a clear timeline of the Amendment 23 development process, highlighting where we are now and what is coming up next. To improve accountability and transparency, there is an action tracking table showing what we are doing and making it easy to track our progress.
Our strategic communications plan is focused on groundfish monitoring and Amendment 23. We also aim to use the lessons learned through this process to improve future communication efforts on other topics as well.
Where We Are in the Amendment 23 Process
The draft environmental impact statement for Amendment 23 is open for public comment through June 30, 2020. The Council is seeking feedback from the public on which alternatives should be selected and why. The New England Fishery Management Council is holding public hearings to solicit comments regarding the range of alternatives under consideration. The Council held the first public hearings by webinar on April 15, May 12, and May 21, 2020. Additional public hearings, including in-person hearings, will be announced when information becomes available. Members of the public may submit oral and written comments at any public hearing or submit written comments directly to the Council.
Stakeholders told us that they would like us to develop additional resources to help them understand the information contained in the DEIS. They also wanted to know how to participate in the public comment process. In response to these requests, we developed an economic analysis guide and a participation guide to help stakeholders navigate the process.
We would like to thank the stakeholders who participated in the confidential interviews for your time, as well as for your candid and detailed feedback. We would also like to thank all of the stakeholders who participated in the online survey. Your participation has allowed us to tailor our Amendment 23 communication efforts, as well as our future communication efforts, to better fit your needs and preferences. We look forward to your continued participation and feedback as we work to improve our communication strategy in the future.