National Marine Fisheries Service

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), informally known as NOAA Fisheries, is the United States federal agency responsible for the stewardship of national marine resources. The agency conserves and manages fisheries to promote sustainability and prevent lost economic potential associated with overfishing, declining species, and degraded habitats.

National Marine Fisheries Service
Agency overview
Formed1970 (1970)
JurisdictionUnited States Department of Commerce
HeadquartersSilver Spring, Maryland, US
38°59′32.1″N 77°01′50.3″W
Employees4,200 (2019)[1]
Annual budgetUS$1.027 billion (2019)[2]
Agency executive
  • Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries
Parent agencyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is a United States federal agency, informally known as NOAA Fisheries.[3] A division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is in the cabinet-level Department of Commerce, NMFS is responsible for the stewardship and management of the nation's living marine resources and their habitats within the United States' exclusive economic zone, which extends seaward 200 nautical miles (230 miles; 370 kilometres) from the coastline. NOAA oversees the NMFS.

Using the tools provided by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the NMFS assesses and predicts the status of fish stocks, ensures compliance with fisheries regulations, and works to end wasteful fishing practices. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, the agency also monitors recovering protected marine species, such as wild salmon, whales, and sea turtles.

With the help of the six regional science centers, eight regional fisheries management councils,[4] the coastal states and territories, and three interstate fisheries management commissions,[5] NMFS conserves and manages marine fisheries to promote sustainability and to prevent lost economic potential associated with overfishing, declining species, and degraded habitats. While the coastal states and territories generally have authority to manage fisheries within near-shore state waters, the NMFS has the primary responsibility to conserve and manage marine fisheries in the U.S. exclusive economic zone beyond state waters. The agency also attempts to balance competing public needs for the natural resources under its management.

Law enforcement

The NMFS also serves as a federal law enforcement agency, working closely with state enforcement agencies, the United States Coast Guard, and foreign enforcement authorities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement is based in Silver Spring, Maryland.


The NMFS regulatory program is one of the most active in the federal government, with hundreds of regulations published annually in the Federal Register. Most regulations are published to conserve marine fisheries under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act; other regulations are published under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. The NMFS also regulates fisheries pursuant to decisions of "regional fishery management organizations" (RFMOs)[6](RFMOs) and other RFMOs to which the U.S. is a party, such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission,[7] the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission,[8] the Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program,[9] the International Pacific Halibut Commission, etc.

In 2007, the NMFS issued regulations to protect endangered whales from fatal fishing-gear entanglements after environmental groups sued to force action on the rules, which were proposed in early 2005. The rules were enacted to specifically protect the North Atlantic right whale, of which about only 350 remain. Marine-gear entanglements and ship strikes are the top human causes of right whale deaths. On July 1, the shipping lanes in and out of Boston Harbor were rotated to avoid an area with a high concentration of the right whales.[10] In the fiscal year 2017, the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Program of NOAA's NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, Protected Resources Division, carried out the mandates of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and was charged with protecting the whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea turtles that occur within the greater Atlantic region. This program currently includes marine mammal health and stranding response, large whale disentanglement, and sea turtle stranding and disentanglement. To implement this program, NMFS established several networks of volunteer organizations that it authorizes to respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles and entangled large whales and sea turtles. NMFS seeks the submission of proposals addressing Marine Animal Entanglement Response in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.[11]

Regional fisheries management councils

The eight domestic regional fisheries management councils make binding regulations for federal waters off various parts of the U.S. coast:[12]

Science centers

The National Marine Fisheries Service operates six fisheries science centers covering marine fisheries conducted by the United States. The science centers correspond roughly to the administrative division of fisheries management into five regions, with the west coast utilizing two fisheries science centers.[21]

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center is headquartered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. It operates laboratories at five other locations, and an additional marine field station.[22] Its primary mission is the management of fisheries on the Northeast shelf.[23] However, it also oversees the operation of the National Systematics Lab, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution.[24] The Northeast Fisheries Science Center also operates the Woods Hole Science Aquarium in conjunction with the Marine Biological Laboratory.

The NMFS maintains the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Science Centers, both located in Seattle. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center is located on the grounds of the now-closed Naval Station Puget Sound. The Northwest Fisheries Science Center is located adjacent to the University of Washington. This site is also home to the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Science Center Library, founded in 1931. As of 2011, this library contained 16,000 books and subscribed to 250 periodicals. Its subject interests include aquatic science, biochemistry, fisheries biology, fisheries management, food science, and marine science.[25]

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center is headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii, on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Monoa.[26] It operates several facilities, including facilities for NOAA ships at Ford Island.

The Southeast Fisheries Science Center is headquartered in Miami, Florida, and monitors marine fisheries in the American Southeast, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. It additionally operates five labs, some of which operate multiple facilities.[27]

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center, headquartered in La Jolla, California, monitors and advises fisheries in NOAA's Southwest region. It operates facilities on the campus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.[28] In 2013, a large facility on La Jolla Shores Drive was built by the architects Gould Evans, replacing an older building that was threatened by coastal erosion.[29] (Although the original architects, 50 years earlier, had been informed that they were building on a "block-glide landslide," they received exemption "from local building code requirements for a preconstruction engineering geology study because it was a U.S. government complex."[30] A 1979 book on coastal erosion reported that the building was "disastrously located. The ‘Tuna Hilton’ rests partially on a piece of bluff known as a slump block. Designers say the building is specially articulated so that it should stay intact as the bluff falls from underneath its seaward end."[31])


The NMFS traces its ancestry to the United States government′s oldest conservation agency, the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, which was established in 1871 because of a growing awareness in the United States of the depletion of fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean off the United States East Coast. Commonly referred to as the United States Fish Commission, the agency studied and managed live ocean resources. In 1903, when the United States Department of Commerce and Labor was created, the commission came under the authority of the new department and was reorganized as the United States Bureau of Fisheries. In 1913, when the Department of Commerce and Labor was split into the United States Department of Commerce and United States Department of Labor, the Bureau of Fisheries came under the control of the Department of Commerce. In 1939, the bureau moved to the United States Department of the Interior.[32]

In 1940, the Bureau of Fisheries merged with the Bureau of Biological Survey to create the new Fish and Wildlife Service, still under the Department of the Interior. In 1956, the Fish and Wildlife Service underwent a reorganization and became the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The 1956 reorganization also established under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service′s authority the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, which focused on the commercial exploitation of fisheries, and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, which focused on recreational fishing.[32]

In 1970, President Richard Nixon transferred the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and almost all its functions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Department of Commerce, and simultaneous with its transfer, the office was renamed the National Marine Fisheries Service. It was placed under the control of NOAA, which was created as a component of the Department of Commerce on 3 October 1970 primarily through a reorganization of the Environmental Science Services Administration, which NOAA replaced.[32]

The NMFS received the authority to conserve ocean wildlife through the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973.[32] In 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, commonly referred to as the Magnuson–Stevens Act, gave the NMFS the authority to manage marine fish stocks, creating eight regional fisheries management councils to oversee fisheries,[32] and the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 amended the 1976 legislation by making changes to authorize new ways of replenishing depleted fish stocks.[32] In 2007, President George W. Bush signed into law the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, which updated the Magnuson–Stevens Act with deadlines to end overfishing, increased use of market-based management tools, the creation of a national saltwater angler registry, and an emphasis on ecosystem approaches to management.[32]


In 2016, the NMFS caused the death of the L95 killer whale of the critically endangered southern resident population. This population travels along the coast of both the United States and Canada, and Canada does not use barbed satellite tags to track them because the method is invasive, but the NMFS made the unilateral decision to tag southern resident orcas.[33] The L95 whale died 5 weeks after being shot with a barbed satellite tag and the Canadian necropsy concluded the barb caused a lethal fungal infection.[34] Prior to L95's tagging, Center for Whale Research Senior Scientist Ken Balcomb documented tag detachment issues and was assured by the NMFS that these issues were "fixed", but the tag on L95 broke off and pieces of the barb remained in L95 until death.[34] Although Balcomb documented infections where barbs had failed to detach on killer whales and presented his findings to the NMFS,[34] the NMFS site read years later in October 2016, "Our experience with previous occurrences of tag attachment failure has shown no impact to the whale’s general health."[35] Though ocean water could enter the wound and whale skin is not sterile, the NMFS stated the fungal infection may have occurred because the barbed tag was dropped in the ocean and was sterilized with only alcohol, rather than both alcohol and bleach, prior to being aimed again at the orca.[36] Two other members of the southern resident orca population disappeared within weeks of being tagged by the NMFS and are presumed dead, although the cause of death, if dead, is uncertain as the bodies were not recovered.[37] Wildlife biologist Brad Hanson supervised the NMFS's killer-whale tagging program. He was not removed from his position following the scandal.[38]

See also


  3. Fisheries, NOAA (18 September 2017). "Welcome to NOAA - NOAA Fisheries".
  4. Fisheries, NOAA (18 September 2017). "Welcome to NOAA - NOAA Fisheries".
  5. Fisheries, NOAA (18 September 2017). "Welcome to NOAA - NOAA Fisheries".
  6. "Tuna-org".
  7. "Inter-American-Tropical-Tuna-Commission".
  8. "Home - WCPFC".
  9. Fisheries, NOAA (25 May 2018). "International Affairs - NOAA Fisheries".
  10. "Federal Agency Agrees to Issue New Rules Protecting Whales from Fishing Gear Entanglement".
  11. "Search Grants - GRANTS.GOV".
  12. "Regional Fishery Management Councils". NOAA Fisheries. (with map)
  13. "North Pacific Fishery Management Council – Managing our Nation's Fisheries off the Coast of Alaska".
  14. "Pacific Fishery Management Council".
  15. "Western Pacific Fishery Council — Ecosystem-based management of fisheries in the U.S. Pacific Islands".
  16. "Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council". Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
  17. "Caribbean Fishery Management Council - Home".
  18. "SAFMC". SAFMC.
  19. "Home". Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
  21. "NOAA Fisheries". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  22. "NEFSC Contact Us". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  23. "NEFSC Mission". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  24. "National Systematics Lab, History". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  25. American Library Directory. 2 (64th ed.). Information Today, Inc. 2011–2012. pp. 2568–2576. ISBN 978-1-57387-411-3.
  26. "Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center About Us". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  27. "Southeast Fisheries Science Center Labs". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  28. "La Jolla". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  29. "NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center / Gould Evans". Arch Daily. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  30. Kuhn, Gerald G.; Shepard, Francis P. (1984). Sea Cliffs, Beaches, and Coastal Valleys of San Diego County: Some Amazing Histories and Some Horrifying Implications. Chapter 8: University of California. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  31. Kaufman, Wallace; Pilkey, Orrin (1979). The Beaches Are Moving: The Drowning of America's Shoreline (First ed.). Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press. p. 55. ISBN 0385143648.
  32. "AllGov - Departments".
  33. "Scientist blasts 'overly barbaric' orca tagging system".
  34. "NOAA: Satellite tag infection killed orca".
  35. "Southern Resident killer whale tagging". Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  36. "Scientists may have killed one of 83 remaining endangered orcas after a botched attempt to implant tracking device".
  37. "Orca satellite tagging halted after dart found in dead whale".
  38. "Southern Resident killer whale tagging".

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