The Human Environment

SunriseMarina.gifMany Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements and other regulatory assessments depend on the collection and analysis of economic and social information.  With this information, managers can assess the prospective costs and benefits of management measures, the impacts on small business entities, and the implications for the sustained participation of fishing communities. 

While this information is key in assessing possible impacts to various sectors, it is often the most difficult to obtain. Few people are willing to disclose information regarding personal income, profit margins and expenses for the sake of economic assessments.  Information for social assessments often involves both time consuming qualitative and quantitative data collection regarding fishermen, their activities and their communities.  Yet detailed information is needed in order for the Council to make better decisions to balance impacts and meet requirements. 

Economic Considerations

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Several statutes and Presidential mandates, including the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental  Policy Act (NEPA), and Executive Order 12866, require that various types of economic analyses and assessments be conducted when federal agencies propose new regulations.  For example, the Small Business Administration (SBA) requires that all federal agencies determine the impact of proposed regulations on the profitability of small business entities. Often, small businesses such as charter operations and family fishing businesses are more vulnerable to short-term losses that may occur as a direct result of management decisions. Fluctuations in a fishing boat’s short-term profits can be a deciding factor in whether a boat owner is forced out of business.

The economic impact of management measures on other business sectors that provide goods and services to commercial harvesters, charter fishing businesses and private recreational fishermen must also be considered.  These establishments include processing facilities, seafood markets, bait and tackle dealers, marinas and others.  Economists often use mathematical models and available data to estimate these impacts.

Social Considerations

With the 1996 reauthorization of the Manuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, national standards were enacted that direct regional fishery management councils to consider fishing communities when  implementing fishery management plans.  The Councils must now “take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities in order to (a) provide for the sustained participation of such communities, and (b) to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities”. 

The Councils and NOAA Fisheries are mandated to account for the social and economic impacts on fishing communities.  However, in order to understand the potential positive and negative impacts, scientists must first be able to define just what a fishing community is and where these fishing communities are.  This is a challenge that is just beginning to be answered in the South Atlantic region.

CleaningDock.jpgDemographic patterns along the  South Atlantic coast have changed in the past few decades, and more and more people are relocating and settling close to the seashore (Florida and Georgia have two of the highest growth rates in the United States).  Where once there were small, coastal communities, there are now new condominiums, resort hotels, marinas and upscale shopping centers.   Competition for waterfront property and access continues to drive up real estate prices and associated taxes, while pressure on natural resources escalates.  Understanding how these changes impact those who depend on the sea for  recreation  as well as those seeking a livelihood, is critical to preserving healthy ocean resources for all.

Community Studies
For the first time, a project has been completed to document the location, type and history of fishing communities in the South Atlantic region. Council staff worked collaboratively with the University of Florida to describe fishing communities in a broad manner (for example, whether the community is characterized mostly by commercial fishing, for-hire, recreational or some combination of all sectors), and link on-the-ground fieldwork with the collection of as much secondary data as possible.  The secondary data included U.S. Census records, landings, permits and state information.  All of this information is used to form a baseline data set to assist in the measurement of social and economic impacts – whether they be from newly proposed management measures such as marine protected areas, or determining the cumulative impacts of earlier regulations such as Amendment 8 (limited entry) to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan.

The first phase of the Community Studies Project (PDF 4MB) involved collecting broad information about communities.  The second included a more in-depth study of a sample community, including ethnographic (detailed in-person) interviews with different members of each fishing sector, compiling community histories and the use of GIS techniques to map community natural resource use, past and present.