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David Newman’s Blog

America's World-Best Fishing Model Must Not Be Destroyed

David Newman

Posted January 13, 2012

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The ocean waters under America’s jurisdiction are larger than any other nation. From the Coast of Maine to the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, U.S. marine waters are 23 percent greater than the nation’s entire land area.

While impressive, what is even more amazing – and not well appreciated by most Americans – is that the U.S. also has one of the most advanced fisheries conservation laws in the world, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 

This week marks five years since Congress reauthorized the law, including new requirements to set annual catch limits for all federally managed species (with a few very limited exceptions) by the end of 2011.  Importantly, these catch limits may not exceed maximum fishing levels recommended by independent scientific advisers and must ensure that overfishing does not occur.  Put simply – it helps keep the amount of every kind of fish we take out of the sea each year in check, to keep us from depleting some of our nation’s valuable natural capital, its fishery resources.

A Washington Post article from earlier this week reported on the significance of this milestone achievement:

“In an effort to sustain commercial and recreational fishing for the next several decades, the United States this year will become the first country to impose catch limits for every species it manages, from Alaskan pollock to Caribbean queen conch.

Although the policy has attracted scant attention outside the community of those who fish in America and the officials who regulate them, it marks an important shift in a pursuit that has helped define the country since its founding.”

The nation’s chief fisheries official described the achievement this way:

“‘It’s something that’s arguably first in the world,’ said Eric Schwaab, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries. ‘It’s a huge accomplishment for the country.’”

(See NOAA Fisheries’ recently released fact-sheet entitled “Turning the Corner on Ending Overfishing: U.S. Fisheries Reaches Historic Milestone in 2012.”

Of course, changing fisheries management so profoundly will not happen without vocal opposition from those wanting to maximize catch at the expense of the stability and sustainability of the fishery over the long run.

Some of these opponents have waged a campaign to undo the progress that’s been made over the past several years toward science-based management.  For example, as I wrote previously, a bill introduced last year, misleadingly named the “Fisheries Science Improvement Act of 2011” (H.R.2304), would gut these new provisions and turn back the clock on improving science-based fisheries management (see NRDC’s Fact Sheet on the bill).  Since then, a Senate version by the same name has been introduced (S.1916). NRDC, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, the Pew Environment Group, and other leading conservation groups strongly oppose this proposed legislation because it would undo progress we’ve made (see our recent letter to the Senate Commerce Committee explaining our opposition).    

Our successful path toward restoring America’s fisheries to plentiful and sustainable levels is in large part thanks to stakeholders) and political opponents coalescing around a proactive vision of smart fishing management.  This vision was shepherded through Congress with broad bipartisan support, led by the late Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska (the law’s namsesake), and signed into law by former President George W. Bush. 

Many fishermen, conservationists, scientists, and others agree that the future of fisheries management must be guided by the best available science.  Now that we have begun realizing this vision, it would be a tremendous mistake to pull the plug on progress that has made the U.S. the envy of the world on fisheries management.    

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