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Proposed environmental rules for fishery management officially withdrawn

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS) is officially withdrawing its proposed rules regarding the Environmental Review Process for Fishery Management Actions. NMFS, part of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce, is announcing in the Federal Register of Monday, July 14, 2014 that it is canceling it plan to write new rules regarding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) concerning fishery management, as authorized by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act. NMFS first proposed the rule back in 2008 but never finalized it.

Instead of issuing new rules, NMFS opted to go with an official policy, which it adopted on Feb. 19, 2013. The policy is known as the NEPA Compliance for Council-Initiated Fishery Management Actions under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The policy defines what NMFS and the regional fishery management councils are supposed to do. It sets out deadlines and procedures, describes what the agencies need to document and also provides guidance on how the councils and NMFS can work together to comply with NEPA.

NMFS changed its mind about the rules after consulting with the regional councils and the Council on Environmental Quality. Last month, it proposed new environmental fisheries policies and is now taking public comments on the matter. If you have any questions, contact Steve Leathery at steve.leathery@noaa.gov or (301) 427-8014.

NMFS is responding to the 2007 reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens, which required it to “revise and update” its policies in this matter. After it proposed new rules in 2008, NMFS conduced three public listening sessions and presented its plans in person to all at regional councils. The agency received more than 1,600 comments during a three-month public comment period. The proposed rules would have required public comment periods and described what NMFS and the council had to do when writing fishery management rules. But now, it says the guidance it provided last year does the trick.