NOAA Chief Outlines Priorities For Future of Sustainable Seafood

This post comes to us from Colles Stowell, research and education director for Cape Ann Fresh Catch. He’s been blogging from the Seafood Summit in New Orleans. Last month, the Fish Locally Collaborative sent a letter to NOAA supporting their draft 5-year strategic plan. So we were glad to hear they are continuing to get the word out about issues we’ve been bringing up for years! Read on for more from NOAA.

NOAA chief Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, speaking at the Seafood Summit in New Orleans

The SeaWeb Seafood Summit began this morning with Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, painting a broad picture of the current state of affairs, both the accomplishments and the challenges.
As someone who was previously NOAA’s chief scientist and Pew Charitable Trust’s Marine Aquaculture Task Force chief, Sullivan spoke authoritatively about NOAA’s mission as an environmental intelligence agency.
“The cornerstone of NOAA is prediction,” she said. “It is the most powerful dimension of environmental intelligence. To know what’s coming, and plan ahead.” This includes everything from predicting the path of a tropical storm brewing in the South Atlantic, to daily tide tables.
Sullivan outlined three core priorities for NOAA going forward:
  1. Invest in additional observational infrastructure, such as satellites, buoys, aircraft, etc. These are the underpinnings of the agency’s environmental intelligence;
  2. Evolve National Weather Service to take weather readings more frequently and disseminate that info more broadly and faster; and,
  3. Provide services to help communities become more resilient. This means information, infrastructure, and other resources to enhance societal, economic and ecological awareness and balance. Translation: helping small coastal communities help themselves, with programs such as those to help improve local fisheries.
She then gave a frank assessment of the state of US fisheries. She highlighted upticks in U.S. commercial seafood landings and corresponding revenue increases in recent years. The number of stocks that are considered overfished or where “overfishing” is occurring has either decreased or leveled off, she said.
However, there are challenges to overcome. Climate change and habitat loss are significant factors affecting seafood sustainability, she said. Couple that with the fact that the global population is expected to jump 28% from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050. But the global abundance of wild fish is flat or decreasing.
So sustainable, responsible aquaculture is going to become even more critical than it is now, she said. Its benefits extend beyond the farmers and distributors to communities, where economic and health benefits have a broad reach.
“Over half of the seafood we eat comes from aquaculture,” she said. In 2011, the US generated 1.3 billion pounds of aquaculture-raised seafood compared to 5 billion harvested commercially. But largely because of regulatory uncertainty and some public perception issues, aquaculture doesn’t get the credit it deserves she said. “We need to stop exporting aquaculture jobs to other countries” with more friendly regulations.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud such as mislabeling is another global challenge that NOAA and the current administration are targeting as another hindrance to sustainable seafood economies. Sullivan noted the recent task force launched by President Obama to combat Illegal, Unregulated, and Underreported (IUU) fishing as an important step toward leveling the playing field.
Developing better enforcement tools and improving collaboration between industry, conservation scientists and policy makers will minimize IUU.
Sullivan aptly summed up her talk by reminding everyone in attendance that “healthy sustainable fisheries are central to our planet.”