NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator John Bullard spoke at last year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Executive order storm may roil fisheries management

ELLSWORTH — President Trump’s executive order directing federal agencies to choose two regulations for repeal whenever they propose a new one raised the angst of legislators and industry members concerned with management of the nation’s fisheries.

Trump’s executive order, Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, directs agencies to repeal two existing regulations for every new regulation, and to do it in a way that does not increase the total cost of compliance.

In a Feb. 2 letter to the president, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva and Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee Ranking Member Jared Huffman, warned the president that his executive order would prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from setting and adjusting commercial and recreational fishing seasons; adjusting landings quotas or other conservation or management related measures; or adopting new or amended fishery management plans without getting advance authority from the administration.

“All fisheries that take place in federal waters require regulatory action to open and close season, set catch limits, modify conservation and management measures, or adjust participation eligibility requirements,” the representative wrote. “We urge you to rescind the executive orders immediately and eliminate political interference with the processes that help commercial and charter fishermen earn their livelihoods, and allow recreational anglers access to well-managed stocks.”

Several fisheries organizations, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association among them, also expressed fears that the executive order could cripple the commercial fishing industry.

A month after Trump issued his regulatory edict, those concerns appear to have been overblown, although an executive order signed last Friday, which directs federal agencies to create “regulatory reform” task forces that are to evaluate federal rules and recommend whether to keep, repeal or change them, may complicate matters.

Last Friday, Drew Minkiewicz, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents commercial fishing interests and provides counsel on regulatory issues, said Trump’s executive order “is not going to impact or delay the operation of fisheries management at all.” Minkiewicz spoke before the White House announced the president’s latest executive order. According to Minkiewicz, the administration’s Office of Management and Budget has determined that the executive order applies only to “significant actions” as defined in another executive order issued during the Clinton administration.

“More than 99 percent of NMFS regulations are not deemed significant,” he said. “There could be maybe one rule in the next four years this (the recent executive order) applies to.”

Trump’s order “adds a layer of uncertainty” when it comes to amending existing fisheries management plans, Ben Martens, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association executive director, said last week. “We don’t really know what the impact will be. Most fisheries regulations don’t trigger” the significant actions provisions, he said, “but some do.”

For the moment, the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is continuing its fisheries management actions without any appreciable change.

NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Mass., supervises two of the eight federal fishery management councils – the New England Fishery Management Council and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council – established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to regulate the nation’s fisheries. In an email last Friday, John Bullard, NOAA’s regional administrator, said “we continue to work with the administration (OMB) to get through the necessary regulatory actions to manage the fisheries in our region. We have urged both councils in our region not to delay any actions during this period of transition.”

Minkiewicz, who spent several years as senior counsel and staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard chaired by then-Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) before joining the Washington law firm Kelley Drye, said that NMFS should be able to deal with situations in which the new order might apply.

Every new regulation, he said, is added on top of older, existing regulations that become obsolete.

“There will be plenty of low-hanging fruit,” he said, “a chance to weed the garden.”

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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