NOTE: This is a guest post by Holly Binns, Director of the Southeast Fish Conservation Campaign at Pew Environment Group.
New protections for nearly 200 fish species are going into effect early this year in the Southeast — a major milestone that will help secure the area’s reputation for bountiful fishing.
For the first time, every major species in the region will have a science-based catch limit that will regulate how much fish can be taken from the ocean.
Thank you to the more than 37,000 Care2 activists who signed a petition sponsored by the Pew Environment Group’s Southeast and U.S. Caribbean Fish Conservation Campaign. Fishery managers heard your requests.
The new protections are a proactive approach to managing our valuable ocean resources. The idea is to prevent overfishing by setting reasonable limits before some fish populations plummet to critically low levels. This strategy should avert tougher, more painful restrictions in the future by managing fish populations wisely today.
The updated Southeast catch limits cover species in the Gulf of Mexico, the South Atlantic from North Carolina to Florida, and in water off the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Limits are being set for popular catch, such as mahimahi, king mackerel, black grouper and a parrotfish — a Caribbean gem that helps keep our coral reefs healthy. Fishery managers also are enacting quotas for more than 300 species in other areas of the country.
The protections stem from conservation plans that were years in the making. Five years ago, President George W. Bush signed legislation updating the nation’s primary fishing law — the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The revision included strong measures to prevent and end overfishing and required regional fishery managers to act by the end of 2011.
The sweeping reforms were noted in a recent Washington Post article:
Until recently the nation’s regional management councils, which write the rules for the 528 fish stocks under the federal government’s jurisdiction, regularly flouted scientific advice and authorized more fishing than could be sustained, according to scientists. Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said the law’s ban on overfishing forced fishery managers to impose limits that some commercial and recreational fishers had resisted for years.
“This simple but enormously powerful provision had eluded lawmakers for years and is probably the most important conservation statute ever enacted into America’s fisheries law,” Reichert said.
Some fishing groups oppose the new rules and question the reliability of data used to justify limits. But fishery managers make decisions based on data — some of which is collected directly from fisherman — that are peer-reviewed by leading researchers. Managers, most of whom are recreational or commercial fisherman themselves, also consult with a panel of respected scientific advisers. Many conservation-minded anglers and fishing leaders support the updated measures to protect valuable resources. Hear directly from some Southeast fishermen here.
A New York Times editorial highlighted the benefits of implementing new catch limits now:
Not everyone supports the idea of annual catch limits or the way they are set. …But conservative catch limits are the only way to keep species like cod from being fished out of existence. Annual limits are the most responsible way to ensure that there will be fish — and fishing jobs — in the future.
There is still work to be done, particularly in the Southeast, to ensure conservation of important fish habitats and to protect smaller species that serve as food and a foundation for the marine ecosystem. Thank you again and please continue to support our efforts. One easy way is to sign up to receive Pew’s monthly update on Southeast fish conservation, and we’ll let you know how you can help.
Photo credit: NOAA