WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-21) grilled the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about an eleventh-hour decision that prevents Lake Okeechobee from being responsibly managed in a way that minimizes discharges to the St. Lucie estuary.  

Granted permission to waive onto the House Committee on Natural Resources for the day, Rep. Mast questioned the Deputy Administrator of NOAA, Jainey Bavishi, and the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs at the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS), Mr. Samuel Rauch, about the agency’s intrusion into the implementation of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM).  On March 1, 2023 the NMFS, a division of NOAA, requested a formal biological consultation on LOSOM’s potential impact on red tide and sea turtles on the west coast of Florida.  

“Everything about this is fishy.  NMFS declined to participate in the process and skipped four years’ worth of meetings, only to jump in - literally - at the last possible moment.  Now they’re working with the Army Corps behind closed doors, and the bureaucrats in charge of the agency won’t answer basic questions in front of Congress,” said Rep. Mast.  

“Because of their decision to finally pay attention, we have to deal with another rainy season under the outdated and ineffective schedule, LORS.  That means more discharges - and more closed businesses, more bad health outcomes and more environmental disasters.  Our community deserves answers, but we didn’t get any today,” he concluded.  

Mr. Rauch failed to offer any insight into NMFS’s goal or process in conducting the formal biological study.  Furthermore, he blamed the agency’s lack of participation in the Project Development Team on staffing shortages.  

“For an agency whose mission is the ‘conservation of protected resources’ and ‘healthy ecosystems,’ you think they could’ve managed to spare a few hours every month to engage in a project that has the potential to dramatically improve the environment off of Florida’s coasts,” Rep. Mast opined 

Rep. Mast’s exchange can be viewed in full here


  • On May 22, 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers invited the National Marine Fisheries Service to be a part of the Project Delivery Team (PDT) tasked with developing the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual. 

  • On June 20, 2019, NMFS responded that, due to staffing shortages, their participation would be “limited,” and reserved to “review and comment on draft National Environmental Policy Act documents.”

  • For FY2023, Congress appropriated $1,093,300,000 to NMFS.  NMFS employs 10 people in Washington, D.C., plus 11 people in the southeast regional office, to collaborate with other agencies on the protection of endangered species. 

  • Over the course of four years, the PDT met regularly to discuss the development and implementation of LOSOM.   

  • On March 1, 2023 NMFS requested an formal biological review of the impact of LOSOM, as currently drafted, on red tide on Florida’s west coast.  The request pushed back the expected date of implementation from June 2023 to December 2023.