What is the regulatory process and how does it work within NOAA Fisheries?
Congress authorizes federal agencies to implement laws by creating and enforcing regulations. NOAA Fisheries regulates commercial and recreational fisheries in U.S. waters to preserve and support fish populations and fishing activities for future generations. Regulations can apply to individuals, businesses, state or local governments, non-profit institutions, and others.
How are laws created?
A member of Congress proposes a bill that, if approved, will become law. If both houses of Congress approve a bill, it goes to the President who has the option to either approve or veto it. The primary laws that drive our work regarding fishing activities is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Once an act is passed, the House of Representatives standardizes the text of the law and publishes it in United States Code (U.S.C.).
How is a law put into practice?
Laws often do not include all the details needed to explain how an affected individual, organization, or state or local government might follow it. So Congress authorizes government agencies, including NOAA Fisheries, to create and enforce regulations.
Regulations set specific requirements about what is legal and what isn't. For example, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act established regional fishery management councils that work with NOAA Fisheries to sustain fish populations and fishing activities in U.S. waters, in part by making recommendations for annual quotas and other fishing regulations. Once a regulation is in effect, NOAA Fisheries then works to help the public comply with the law and to enforce it.
How are fisheries regulations created?
In most cases, the first step of developing federal fishing regulations happens at the Council, and the final steps are implemented by NOAA Fisheries. Every regulation is developed under slightly different circumstances, but the general process for developing federal fishing regulations is as follows:
- The Council gathers suggestions and ideas regarding the fishery problem, need, or identified issue. This information comes from stakeholders and the public. Issues, potential impacts of actions, and options for addressing the issue (called reasonable alternatives) are identified through this process.
- An oversight committee develops actions and alternatives based on the information gathered. Technical analysis of the actions and alternatives are done and the Council drafts supporting documents.
- After alternatives are developed for plans and amendments, public hearings are held to gather feedback on potential impacts of proposed options or suggestions for alternatives.
- A committee makes a recommendation on the final action to the Council. Before the Council votes, the public is invited to speak on the action. The Council votes on adopting or amending the action. Once the Council votes to adopt a management action, it goes to NOAA Fisheries for review, approval, and implementation.
- NOAA Fisheries reviews the Council action for compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other federal laws, and then proposes a regulation by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The proposal is listed in the Federal Register (FR) so that members of the public can consider it and submit their comments. The Federal Register is a daily U.S. government publication that publishes proposed and final regulations for federal agencies. This publication can be found online.
- Once we consider the public comments, we revise the regulation as needed and issue a final rule. This final rule is also published in the Federal Register.
- The regulation is then codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which is the official record of all federal regulations.
Are there species not managed through the Council regulatory process?
There are also many state-managed fish, shellfish, and crustacean species. NOAA Fisheries partners with commissions to develop Interstate Fisheries Management Plans for coastal species that migrate across state boundaries.
If there is no federal plan for a species, state regulations apply in federal waters. If a council decides to create a management plan for that species, federal regulations replace the state regulations in federal waters. For fisheries that have both types of management plans, federally permitted commercial and for-hire vessels must comply with the more restrictive management to ensure conservation goals are achieved.
How can I get involved in the regulatory process?
There are many opportunities for public comments or involvement throughout the entire process. Here are some key ways you can help in the development of federal fishery regulations:
- Speak at meetings or submit your comments in writing to the Council during the initial stages of the process.
- Attend committee meetings. These meetings are open to the public and contributing your input can help refine the alternative options as they are being developed.
- Speak on the action before the Council votes on the final action.
- Provide public comments for the proposed rule. Public comment periods for proposed rules are 15 to 60 days. The comment period for the Notice of Availability of the proposed rule and the implementing regulations for the proposed rule usually overlap. This is the last chance for public input, and only comments supporting or opposing the proposed action are considered.
You can also provide feedback on measures affecting Atlantic highly migratory species. You can attend scoping or Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel meetings or submit comments to the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division.
Each of our partners and regional fisheries commissions also have processes for public participation. Learn more about NOAA Fisheries three Interstate Fisheries Commissions partners.
How can I comment on proposed regulations?
You can comment on proposed regulations electronically at www.regulations.gov. The site allows you to search by agency or subject, or by the regulatory identification number provided in the Federal Register notice. You may also mail comments directly to NOAA Fisheries at the address provided in the Federal Register notice. Visit the NOAA Fisheries website for a list of proposed regulations open for comments.
What kinds of comments or feedback are most effective?
Your comments will be most helpful if you:
- Explain your interest in the issue.
- Focus on key points and why you hold that opinion.
- Suggest an alternative that you think will help address the issue or need.
- Share how your opinion relates to the law and the national standards.