2020 Surveys, Critical to Coastal Communities, Suspended Due to COVID-19 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), in an effort to help Mississippi coastal communities whose economies rely on fishing, are calling for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to begin planning now to resume fisheries surveys in 2021.

The Mississippi Senators are among 19 Senators who signed a letter to NOAA Acting Administrator Dr. Neil Jacobs recommending the agency begin identifying and resolving any challenges created by COVID-19 that prevented fisheries surveys from occurring in 2020 in order to ensure 2021 surveys can take place.  NOAA Fisheries suspended the surveys in May amid COVID-19 logistical and health concerns.

“Any challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether logistical or health-related, that prevented surveys from occurring in 2020 should be identified and resolved through immediate planning and preparation,” the Senators wrote.  “We encourage NOAA Fisheries to work with other federal agencies and private industries that have successfully conducted research cruises and other operations at sea during the pandemic, including the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard; identify successful strategies for minimizing risks; and develop a proactive plan to protect the safety of scientists and crew while ensuring NOAA can complete its core survey mission in FY21.”

In seeking a written plan for FY2021 surveys before Dec. 15, 2020, the Senators also stressed the employment and economic impact of fishery operations to U.S. coastal communities.

“Fishery and ecosystem research surveys are essential to support the U.S. blue economy and provide valuable fishery-independent data needed to carry out provisions of the Magnuson- Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).  Data collected from NOAA’s research surveys are used to manage commercial and recreational fisheries that contributed 1.74 million jobs, over $240 billion in sales, and $111 billion in gross domestic product to the U.S. economy in 2017.  The economic output of U.S. fisheries is maximized by setting accurate quotas and catch limits, which depend on the long-term, fishery-independent datasets collected by NOAA’s research surveys,” the Senators wrote. 

While NOAA used alternative data collection methods after suspending surveys in May, those methods are not sufficient replacements for the typical large-scale, long-term research surveys required to sustainably manage fisheries under the MSA. 

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) led the letter, which was also signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Margaret Hassan (D-N.H.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Angus King (I-Maine), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

A copy of the letter is available here.