By Chris Adams

The efforts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division have had a substantial and positive impact on the state of America’s fisheries. But the agency faces significant challenges.

NOAA Fisheries, which oversees execution of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, has a mandate to protect fisheries stocks in U.S. waters. Barry Thom, the administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast region, gave National Press Foundation fellows an overview of NOAA generally and the issues specific to waters on the West Coast.

NOAA has five regions, each with at least one fisheries science center; the West Coast operation has two.

In addition to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the region has commissions or programs dealing with specific fish – tuna, halibut, groundfish, shark, swordfish, sardines, squid and many others – as well as tribal fishing rights, protected species, endangered species and other topics.

“One of our core drivers is to bring the latest science into the decision-making process,” Thom said.

Among the key issues they handle are stock assessments – basically counting the fish in the oceans. Only by knowing what’s living under the waves can the government know how many fish can be pulled out. History is filled with examples of fish that were overfished nearly out of existence; only by strictly regulating how much recreational and commercial fishermen are allowed to catch can the species be allowed to recover.

The mandate, Thom said, “is to allow as much fishing as we can on the short term while maintaining the health of those stocks on the long-term.”