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The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires examination of the "human environment", "the integrated use of natural and social sciences in planning and decision-making" and consideration of "unquantified environmental amenities and values" on a par with quantifiable values. The President's Council on Environmental Quality further defined "human environment" to "include the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment."

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), originally promulgated in 1974, has long required social analyses. MSA Section 303(b)(6) on limited entry requires examination of current and historical involvement in fishing, economic, social and cultural factors, and "the capability of fishing vessels used in the fishery to engage in other fisheries." Section 303(a)(9) on preparation of Fishery Impact Statements requires description of impacts of any regulation to both "(A) participants in the fisheries and fishing communities affected by the plan or amendment; and (B) participants in the fisheries conducted in adjacent areas . . ."

The Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 amended the MSA so that National Standard 5 refers to considering rather than promoting economic efficiency and included 3 new National Standards for fisheries management (8 on communities, 9 on bycatch and 10 on safety). It also added a definition of “fishing community.” National Standard 8 provides for the sustained participation in fishing of fishing communities (as defined in the MSA) and the minimization of adverse economic impacts, though it does not require any minimum levels of landings or access to particular species. An MSA fishing community is “. . . substantially dependent on or substantially engaged in the harvest or processing of fishery resources to meet social and economic needs, and includes fishing vessel owners, operators, and crew and United States fish processors that are based in such community.” However, there is no specified level for “substantially.”

Most recently, the MSA Re-Authorization Act of 2006 added section 303A on Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs). This builds upon section 303(b)(6), described above, and requires that LAPPs, among other things, promote social and economic benefits. It provides the option for communities to participate in a LAPP, and requires consideration of special measures for "entry-level and small vessel owner-operators, captains, crew, and fishing communities."

Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice requires special analyses for actions that impact minority populations, low-income populations and Indian tribes. Some of these groups are active in one or more NMFS Northeast Region fisheries.

Executive Order 12866 on Regulatory Planning and Review requires, among other things, that all regulatory actions in the U.S. be subject to an economic benefit-cost analysis.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended, in section 3(16)(A) includes “economic characteristics in its’ description of the term “fishery.” Section 103(b)(5) requires analysis of the “economic and technological feasibility” of the implementation of requirements related to the protection of marine mammals. Section 109(f)(1)(B)(ii) provides for “economic opportunities for the residents of the rural coastal villages of Alaska who engage in subsistence uses” of marine mammals.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 as amended requires analysis of the economic impact of designating critical habitat.

The Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 as amended requires economic analyses of the impact of any regulation on small entities. In the Northeast, all fishing firms are considered to be small entities under the law.

The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 as amended provides for judicial review of the requirements of the Regulatory Flexibility Act in order to assure adequate economic analyses.

Each National Marine Fisheries Service region has staff dedicated to social science research, though the southwest currently has only economists and relies on California Sea Grant for its sociocultural research.