The Washington Times - March 1, 2009, 06:29PM

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service has lumped together recreational and commercial fishing segments in the U.S., believing that overfishing in the oceans can be ended by 2010 as demanded by the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Good luck to all the parties involved. They’ll need it.

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The  Magnuson-Stevens Act requires fishery managers to set up systems that will specify annual catch limits at such levels that overfishing does not occur. “Additionally, the act calls for measures to ensure accountability with these limits, and that the limits do not exceed the scientific recommendations made by the regional fishery management councils’ scientific committees,” said a statement from NOAA.

Jim Balsiger, the acting assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service, said: “The commercial seafood industry and recreational saltwater fishing provide our nation food, jobs and other incredible benefits that we want to continue for future generations when we end overfishing.”

The final guidance to end overfishing was recently published in the Federal Register. It outlined a system of catch limits, reference points and targets that could be used for each stock to prevent overfishing. The system, says NOAA, takes into account the uncertainty in estimating catch limits for a certain species, but it calls for strong accountability measures to prevent annual catch limits from being exceeded, and to address such a situation quickly if it does occur.

How that can be effectively done is beyond my comprehension. Judging by the occasional nabbing of violators among commercial fish netters, and the impossible task of checking even a tiny number of recreational anglers, how on earth can anyone say with certainy that overfishing can be prevented or where it is occurring? We’d need thousands of law enforcement officials to truly check on accurate fishing activities on both coasts. That isn’t likely to happen in these days of a sagging economy, budget cuts and layoffs.

However, NOAA says that in 2007, seven fish species’ stocks were removed from the overfishing list and approximately 40 stocks are still experiencing overfishing.

Annual catch limits are required for U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries subject to overfishing by 2010, and for all other stocks by 2011.

According to NOAA, the U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries generated more than $185 billion in sales and supported more than two million jobs nationwide in 2006, the latest data available. The commercial fishing industry — netters, seafood processors, dealers, wholesalers and retailers — accounted for $103 billion in sales, and supported 1.5 million jobs in 2006. Recreational saltwater fishing generated $82 billion in sales of equipment, boats, hiring of guides and captains. NOAA says it supported 534,000 jobs in 2006.

What I don’t understand is the inclusion of recreational fishing in the government’s efforts to end overfishing.

Maybe if you’ve been on the planet Mars for the past 50 years you wouldn’t know that overfishing generally addresses commercial fish netters, not the guys and gals who cast a fishing lure or a chunk of bait with a rod and reel while standing on a pier, levee, or the deck of a sportfishing boat.

When the problem concerns overfishing, the recreational community has shown time and again that it voluntarily practices conservation measures, and if told to stop fishing for certain species until stocks rebound, they’ll gladly cooperate.

The same is not always true with commercial operators who know a lot of money can be made on a net filled with tasty fish. Money and greed can do a lot to influence the actions of commercial netters in oceans, bays, or rivers.

But let’s wait and see what will happen and how the government goes about the seemingly impossible task to end abuses and make our salty waters well again.

To see more from NOAA’s Fisheries Service, go to www.nmfs.noaa.gov