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U.S. Exempted Fishing Permits: Role, Value, and Lessons Learned for Adaptive Fisheries Management


Experimental fishing is a tool within adaptive management, but greater capacity exists to use experimentation to test alternative ideas to meet the national standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and promote sustainable fisheries. Few programs exist to allow for experimentation in federal waters, 3-200nm offshore, which is a crucial component of adaptive fisheries management. The exempted fishing permit (EFP) program, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), promotes collaboration between scientists, managers, and industry to develop creative solutions to evolving fisheries challenges by leveraging resources across fisheries sectors. To date, no synthesis of EFP implementation and efficacy has been conducted, leaving those who manage these fisheries in the dark as to their success more generally. Although regional managers discuss EFP projects on an individual basis, an analysis of the entire program provides useful guidance to management more broadly and describes trends in success to effectively translate experimentation to management. Here we developed the first standardized database of EFPs in the U.S. to summarize regional trends in applicant types, fisheries, gear types, goals, and exempted regulations. EFP documentation from 2008-2018 was compiled across seven broadly defined fisheries in four coastal regions in the U.S. We also evaluated factors that were associated with the degree to which EFPs were informative for fisheries management; ‘informative’ being defined as either informing regulatory change within a fishery or providing supporting data to fisheries reports (e.g. stock assessments, fishery management plans). We found strong differences between regions of the U.S. with the groundfish fishery strongly represented in the western regions and a mixed assortment of fisheries for the eastern regions. Western region projects had a greater focus on new gear and methods testing to reduce bycatch, whereas eastern regions had a mixture of goals, including projects that supplemented biological or ecological knowledge or contributed to stock assessments. We found strong coastal differences in the types of primary applicants that proposed projects, with eastern projects deriving from “top-down” approaches and western from “bottom-up”. Finally, we found that management region, applicant type, fishery, and size of project were positively associated with success in EFP projects, with Alaska and West Coast regions accounting for the highest proportion of successful projects.

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