As an organization working on transparency and accountability issues worldwide, we received with great concern the news of a new rule proposed on May 23, 2012 by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS), a sub-agency of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). According to NOAA, the fisheries industry generates more than $183 billion per year and directly supports more than 1.5 million jobs.
But a proposed rule called the Confidentiality of Information, 77 Fed. Reg. 30486 would significantly limit access to information in this vital sector. Namely, the rule would require the public to ask permission to access essential information from private fishing permit holders about fishing and its impacts on ocean wildlife. Not only would the permit holders have a direct financial stake in how the public information would be used, but the rule would also allow NMFS to provide information in an “aggregated form,” which ultimately would provide less clear information to citizens.
In short, this would create a hassle for citizens seeking to obtain fishery information. These proposed changes are all the more worrisome given that taxpayers contribute $40 million annually to fund data collection about fisheries.
As peers from more than 60 environmental groups wrote in an open letter to NMFS, “The proposed rule would improperly restrict public access to many types of fishery data central to the public’s ability to understand the management and performance of fisheries, including information generated from tax payer-funded science.” These groups invite the public to join them in this initiative, by sending a message to NMFS.
Taxpayers have the right to know how America’s fisheries – a vital sector – are being managed and how ocean wildlife is affected. We seriously hope that NMFS will not pursue this restriction of public access to information, and that instead it will redraft the proposed rule so that it provides for more openness and better access to fishery information.
Currently the rule is in the public notice and comment phase of the rulemaking process. You can find more information about the issue from Pew Charitable Trusts, and you can add your comment to the government’s public notice here until October 21.
— Marko Tomicic
— Image Credit: Flickr | Franco Folini