Fisheries Management:

Core Principles and a Strategic Approach Would Enhance Stakeholder Participation in Developing Quota-Based Programs

GAO-06-289: Published: Feb 23, 2006. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 2006.

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Dedicated access privilege (DAP) programs are one tool the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses to help end overfishing and promote conservation. Under a DAP program, NMFS sets an allowable catch in a fishery and allocates the privilege to harvest a portion of the total to eligible entities, such as fishermen. Because DAP programs can have significant impacts on fishermen and their communities, many believe that effective participation by fishermen and other stakeholders in the development of these programs is critical. GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent to which the regional fishery management councils are using a framework for effective participation and (2) the methods stakeholders and participation experts suggest for enhancing stakeholder participation in developing DAP programs.

The fishery management councils that GAO reviewed lack key elements of an effective stakeholder participation framework and therefore may be missing opportunities for all stakeholders to participate in the DAP program development process. Based on GAO's review of the literature and the experience of leading federal agencies in stakeholder participation, such a framework should include a strategic implementation approach that embodies a set of core principles, such as making key information readily available and understandable and fostering responsive, interactive communication between stakeholders and decision makers. However, fisheries stakeholders identified several areas where council practices do not fully adhere to the core principles GAO identified. For example, while the councils make DAP-related information available to stakeholders, this information is not always presented in an easily understandable way. Also, while stakeholders can testify at council meetings, according to participation experts, this one-way communication is not an effective way to share information because it does not lead to a dialogue between stakeholders and decision makers. Unlike other federal agencies, NMFS has neither developed a formal stakeholder participation policy nor provided the councils with guidance or training on how to develop and use a strategic approach to enhance stakeholder participation. While not legally required to do so, if NMFS adopted such an approach it could help ensure, among other things, that all relevant stakeholders are identified, specific participation goals are defined, and participation plans are implemented by the councils developing DAP programs. Methods suggested by stakeholders and participation experts that could enhance stakeholder participation in the DAP program development process principally fall into five categories: (1) providing education and outreach; (2) holding meetings using different times, locations, and formats; (3) streamlining the DAP program development process; (4) diversifying interests represented in the council process; and (5) sharing decision-making authority. While using these methods can result in more effective participation, particularly when they are employed as part of a participation plan, these methods can also have certain disadvantages, such as increased costs. For example, the Marine Resource Education Project (MREP), which is sponsored by a group of universities in New England, offers several examples of promising practices. MREP provides stakeholders with training on fisheries management and science to help them better understand the council process and DAP issues, teaches the importance of being involved early and throughout the process, and provides diverse stakeholders with the opportunity to exchange information in informal settings. However, such training can be costly and may reach relatively few stakeholders.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance stakeholder participation in the development of DAP programs, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to direct the Director of NMFS to establish a formal policy for stakeholder participation, including adopting a set of core principles to guide stakeholder participation activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On January 18, 2007, the National Marine Fisheries Service adopted a formal stakeholder participation policy that included a set of core principles for engaging the public in the development of limited access privilege programs (formerly called dedicated access privilege programs).

    Recommendation: To enhance stakeholder participation in the development of DAP programs, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of NOAA to direct the Director of NMFS to provide guidance to the councils and train NMFS staff, council members, and council staff on developing and using a strategic approach to stakeholder participation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On November 16, 2007, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) established a website to serve as a clearinghouse for information and training materials related to stakeholder participation and limited access privilege programs (formerly called dedicated access privilege programs). In addition, the NMFS Office of Sustainable Fisheries hired a training coordinator who began work on January 8, 2007. The training coordinator's job, in part, is to support the training efforts of regional NMFS and council staffs as they relate to stakeholder involvement in the development of limited access privilege programs.

    Recommendation: To enhance stakeholder participation in the development of DAP programs, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of NOAA to direct the Director of NMFS to ensure that the councils develop and implement a framework for stakeholder participation that includes core principles and a strategic approach.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On January 15, 2007, the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries sent a letter to the chairs and executive directors of the regional fishery management councils asking them to implement a framework for stakeholder participation that includes core principles and a strategic approach. The letter stated that NMFS will work with the councils to implement the policy and provided an Internet address for a NMFS website with information and training materials related to stakeholder participation and limited access privilege programs (formerly called dedicated access privilege programs).

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