Mr. Craig Cockrell
Highly Migratory Species Management Division (F/SF1)
Office of Sustainable Fisheries
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
On behalf of the accredited member institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), I would like to thank you for the opportunity to comment in strong support of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) intention to continue to issue Exempted Fishing Permits (EFP’s), Scientific Research Permits and Display Permits for the collection of Highly Migratory Species (Federal Register, Vol. 84, No.225, November 21, 2019; RTID 0648-XT025).
AZA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of accredited zoos and aquariums in the areas of animal care and husbandry, conservation, education, science and recreation. AZA's accredited aquariums, nature centers, science centers and zoos annually host more than 200 million visitors, collectively generate more than $22 billion in annual economic activity, and support more than 208,000 jobs across the country. In 2018, AZA-accredited facilities spent over $230 million on field conservation in over 130 countries benefiting over 880 species and subspecies...over 240 species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. The expertise of AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos in scientific research; conservation breeding; and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation is supported by their premier role in conservation education. AZA and its members are vital to the conservation of the world’s threatened and endangered species.
The NMFS EFP program has historically permitted a limited take of a variety of shark species for public display which would otherwise be prohibited or seasonally/quota limited. The permitted take for public display has enabled professionally-managed, accredited aquariums to educate hundreds of millions of people about these apex predators and their importance in the marine ecosystem over the lifetime of the EFP program.
Public display and educational interpretation of these fascinating animals significantly also enhances any successful shark management plan that involves consumers and taxpayers. Millions of people come through our doors each year to view these ambassadors of their species and learn more about the wonderful world of the sea and the fragility of its diverse ecosystems. We believe our message of respect, wonder and appreciation of the natural world contributes significantly to shark conservation and management.
In summary, the AZA community continues to view ourselves as important partners with NMFS in our ability to speak to millions of visitors annually about marine conservation needs and how fishery management is one of many tools that help protect the ocean’s resources. AZA accredited institutions agree that a common-sense regulatory approach that governs the take of sharks is a positive step in the management of this fishery and a key element in re-building declining shark populations. AZA is also very pleased to see that NMFS recognizes the value of public display. The current system of display quotas for aquariums as well as the associated EFP process for HMS has worked well. NMFS personnel can attest to the low collection rate and high compliance among the professionally operated and AZA-accredited aquarium community. The public aquarium community greatly appreciates the EFP program and strongly supports its continuation into the future.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to comment on this important issue. Should you have any questions about my comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Steven G. Olson
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs
Tweets from https://twitter.com/zoos_aquariums/lists/zoo-and-aquarium-news