Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act
STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHANIE TOOTHMAN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES, PARTNERSHIPS, AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 2807, TO REQUIRE STATE APPROVAL BEFORE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR RESTRICTS ACCESS TO WATERS UNDER THE JURIDICTION OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE FOR RECREATIONAL OR COMMERCIAL FISHING.
JUNE 15, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2807, a bill to amend title 54, United States Code, to require state approval before the Secretary of the Interior restricts access to waters under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service for recreational and commercial fishing.
The Department is strongly opposed to S. 2807, because it is inconsistent with the National Park Service (NPS) mandate under the Organic Act to protect natural resources. In addition, we believe that existing policies calling for cooperation and consultation between the NPS and states on management activities related to fish and wildlife resources already provides a collaborative and effective framework for managing those resources.
Under the NPS Organic Act and park enabling legislations, the NPS has an affirmative responsibility to conserve, protect, and manage fish and wildlife, as well as other resources and values of park units. State laws governing fish and marine resource management apply different standards and may not provide the protections necessary to ensure that park resources are preserved unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
Department of the Interior policy calls for each land managing bureau, including the National Park Service, to consult with states regarding management of fish and wildlife resources, including any potential closures or restrictions. The NPS’s fishing regulations allow for recreational fishing with reasonable and minimal restrictions, adopt non-conflicting state fishing regulations, and require consultation with states prior to restricting or closing park areas to fishing.
Language contained in S. 2807 also appears to open all park units to commercial fishing, which could detrimentally impact park natural resources and opportunities for visitor enjoyment. Under current regulations commercial fishing is only permissible in park units if that use is specifically and directly authorized by Federal statutory law. In addition, several key terms in S. 2807 are currently undefined, including “fishing access,” “coastal waters,” and “estuaries.”
It is important to note that NPS fishing management has a fractional impact on overall fishing access within a state. Within the coastal states of this country, there are millions of water acres that are managed by states for fishing, such as territorial waters, coastal bays and sounds, and inland waters. For example, of the more than 9 million water acres in Florida, Biscayne National Park contains only 164,800 water acres (less than 2% of Florida's overall water acreage). In Texas, which contains more than 4 million water acres, Padre Island National Seashore contains only 72,500 water acres (less than 2% of Texas’s overall water acreage).
The NPS is keenly aware of how important national parks are to states and gateway communities, and how changes in rules for recreational and commercial activities can affect the businesses and visitors in those communities. If a decision is made to restrict recreational or commercial fishing, it is done based on the best available science and, in accordance with law and policy, only after consultation and coordination with states and other interested and impacted parties through a public planning process. By changing the current emphasis on collaboration to mandatory state or territory approval, S. 2807 would undoubtedly result in greater variation in fishing management across the National Park System. Because each state and territory has its own interests and laws, S. 2807 would result in less consistent management of fisheries and marine resources, contrary to the intent of the Organic Act.
The NPS has successfully consulted and collaborated with states regarding fishing and marine resources. One example is the Dry Tortugas National Park research natural area, a 46 square-mile marine reserve designed to restore ecological integrity. The research natural area was created after consultation with the state of Florida, and the subsequent science plan to assess the efficacy of the research natural area was developed in partnership by the NPS and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Implementation of the science plan involved continuous coordination between FWC and NPS, and data have shown that the abundance and sizes of mutton snapper, red grouper, yellowtail snapper, and hogfish have all increased since establishment of the research natural area in that park.
National parks are areas where the NPS is responsible for protecting fish and wildlife, ecosystems, water quality, and natural quiet; preserving our nation’s culture and history; educating visitors; and leaving a legacy of our nation’s natural and cultural heritage. The protections afforded within parks have resulted, like at the Dry Tortugas research natural area, in positive impacts on resources the fisheries that lie outside park boundaries. The NPS will continue to consult and coordinate with state agencies in the management of fish and marine resources and will also seek public input prior to any closures or restrictions.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any members of the subcommittee may have.