NOAA Fisheries Looks Ahead at 2021 Management Priorities and Challenges
While COVID-19 has made this a challenging year for so many, NOAA Fisheries remains committed to our mission and fulfilling our regulatory program activities. Like most government agencies, our employees have adjusted to telework and prioritized our actions to answer the urgent needs of the nation and our economy.
Progress During COVID-19
As of December 4, all CARES Act funding has been provided to states for distribution to eligible fishery participants impacted by COVID-19. So far, the states have distributed $54 million of those funds, and we expect them to distribute the remaining funds shortly.
Further, shifting to a virtual workplace has encouraged innovation and efficiencies. We have shifted gears to provide the needed support and flexibility for commercial and recreational fishing industry activities to proceed as smoothly as possible. This includes virtual/online permitting, in-season fishery actions, and meetings; issuing waivers for observer coverage when needed; answering questions from industry about regulatory requirements while adapting operations under the various health mandates; and working to initiate multiple emergency rulemakings, including easing regulations where feasible. We have also expanded and modified our use of contract support for Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultations to include more off site production of contract deliverables. These changes have helped us to complete more consultations with less administrative overhead.
Challenges During COVID-19
Despite our progress in some areas, we still face challenges posed by COVID-19. For example, the strain on marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network partners makes it difficult to expediently respond to stranding events. Lost commercial and recreational fishery data from survey cancellations, observer waivers, and regional travel restrictions have affected our ability to monitor catch limits and inform current and future management decisions. And not having in-person meetings has meant less effective interactions with our stakeholders and partners and virtual meetings can be long and demanding.
Most importantly, the health and safety of our employees is a priority. We cannot accomplish our mission without a healthy workforce. Like others across the country, many of our employees are experiencing high levels of stress balancing the demands of their jobs with their personal lives. We are all looking forward to some return to normalcy in that regard over the next year.
Looking Ahead: Our 2021 Priorities
The bottom line is that our core mission remains constant, and we are working diligently to make progress in the following priority regulatory areas to:
Sustainably manage fish stocks to achieve optimum yield while preventing overfishing.
Promote sustainable and accessible saltwater recreational fishing.
Stabilize our highest priority protected species.
Review and streamline permitting and authorization processes for energy development and national defense, while maximizing conservation outcomes.
Increase U.S. marine aquaculture production.
Increase consumer confidence in the quality and safety of U.S. seafood.
Finally, I’d like to thank our employees, our partners, and our stakeholders for their patience and tireless dedication to the agency’s efforts to ensure we have healthy and abundant fisheries supporting our economy, that we are protecting and recovering protected species, and that we are protecting and restoring important habitats for our trust resources. Despite the anticipated challenges of COVID-19 through 2021, we will continue our commitment to our core mission as we balance changes to safety protocols with getting the job done.
To a new year focused on restoring public, ocean, and economic health and vibrant coastal communities,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs