Why We Need a Better Approach to Fisheries Management

This is a guest post from Lee Crockett, director of U.S. oceans at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

In late fall of 2006, Congress came together to strengthen the primary law that governs our nation’s ocean fisheries—the Magnuson-Stevens Act, originally passed in 1976. A push from leaders on both sides of the aisle, combined with strong support from President George W. Bush, helped overcome political differences.

Now the House Committee on Natural Resources has advanced a bill to reauthorize and amend the act. Unlike eight years ago, however, this measure lacks significant bipartisan support—and a number of its provisions would undermine key reforms that have proved instrumental in rebuilding depleted U.S. ocean fish populations.

The 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, along with an earlier one in 1996, required an end to overfishing, established clear timelines for rebuilding depleted populations, and required decisions based on science—creating much-needed accountability in the form of annual catch limits.

As a result, our fish stocks are in much better shape today. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service, since 2000 the number of stocks subject to overfishing has dropped from 72 to 28, while 34 depleted fish populations have been rebuilt.

The current reauthorization bill, H.R. 4742, was introduced by Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and approved by the committee with no Republicans voting against it and only one Democrat voting for it. Headed to the full House of Representatives for a vote as early as this month, it includes troubling provisions that would:

  • Add broad loopholes allowing fisheries managers to avoid setting reasonable timelines for rebuilding depleted fish populations;
  • Exempt many species of fish from current science-based catch limits; and
  • Undermine the authority of other proven, keystone federal environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act – laws that involve the public in decision-making and have helped restore, conserve, and manage natural resources for decades.

Perhaps most significantly, the bill misses an opportunity to prepare the nation for growing challenges to the health of our oceans. For decades, single-species policy solutions have been used to fight overfishing and rebuild depleted fisheries. This approach makes it difficult to incorporate important new research about how ocean food webs work or how fishing for one species may unintentionally affect others. Accounting for these connections would allow fisheries managers to better prepare and adapt to the changes that are occurring in our oceans.

Instead of weakening the Magnuson-Stevens Act and putting hard-earned progress at risk, Congress should require a transition to ecosystem-based fishery management. That means protecting important habitats, avoiding non-target catch, ensuring that enough forage fish remain in the water to feed larger animals and putting ecosystem planning on the agenda for fisheries managers.

Developing new policy tools to maintain the overall health of marine ecosystems would build on the conservation successes of the act in restoring depleted fish populations. And, according to a number of prominent marine scientists, ecosystem-based fisheries management would also provide federal fisheries managers with more tools to restore ocean ecosystems, making them more resilient to the impact of climate change on U.S. waters.

Policymakers in Washington today may stand divided on party lines over a whole host of issues, but management of our oceans doesn’t need to be one of them. As Congress did in 1996 and again in 2006, it should put partisan differences aside when crafting the next version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We owe it to our children and grandchildren not only to protect the health of some species of fish, but to ensure the broader health of our oceans. We can do that by taking a comprehensive approach to fisheries management.


Fred L.
Fred L2 years ago

When Big Business buys politicians, the not only buy their vote, they buy their souls. I left out the "only" on my previous post. Here in Hawai'i, we're getting ready for U.S. House, Senate and gubernatorial races. I will be voting, as I always have, for the least evil.

Elaine Bauer
Elaine Bauer2 years ago

And, fisheries management MUST NOT include slaughtering birds and animals who depend on sea food to survive! In Coastal Oregon, there is a plan to poison the nests and eggs of cormorants, and shoot the birds by the thousands. The wildlife "management"(?) authorities are already killing off the sea lions in Coastal Washington.

Elaine Bauer
Elaine Bauer2 years ago

And, fisheries management MUST NOT include slaughtering birds and animals who depend on sea food to survive! In Coastal Oregon, there is a plan to poison the nests and eggs of cormorants, and shoot the birds by the thousands. The wildlife "management"(?) authorities are already killing off the sea lions in Coastal Washington.

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Thanks for the article.

Angev GERIDONI2 years ago

Thank you to all who love the animals and the planet, and who already signed the petition to protect horses from Pétropolis, if no, please help give an happy end to the sad story of those enslaved animals, and share these petitions :
1) Care 2
2) PeticaoPublica.com

Thank you for sharing

Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Thanks for the post;

Taylor Story
Taylor Story2 years ago

We're killing our planet; our oceans are going to be completely empty before we know it. Outrageous.

Simon Tucker
Simon Tucker2 years ago

It is true to say that any system driven by Capitalism will have no respect for anything that reduces the opportunity to make money. Of course, it depends upon your perspective of when you want to make that money and for how long. An intelligent Capitalist would realise that marine protection zones and reserves lead to healthy fish stocks, which will enable them to reap more profit for longer. Unfortunately Intelligent Capitalism / Capitalists are each an oxymoronic concept as they cannot see beyond the end of their noses.

Vasu M.
.2 years ago

According to a national Vegetarian Resource Group Poll conducted by Harris Interactive, nearly 15 percent of Americans say they never eat fish or seafood.

The pacific sardine lives along the coasts of North America from Alaska to southern California. Sardines, once a major part of the California fishing industry, are now considered to be "commercially extinct." Another species classified as "commercially extinct" is the New England haddock. Ecologists have also been concerned about the significant reduction in finfish, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, Lake Erie cisco, and blackfins that inhabit Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Over 200,000 porpoises are killed every year by fishermen seeking tuna in the Pacific. Sea turtles are similarly killed in Caribbean shrimp operations.

The World Conservation Union lists over 1,000 different fish species that are threatened or endangered. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate, over 60 percent of the world's fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. Commercial fish populations of cod, hake, haddock, and flounder have fallen by as much as 95 percent in the north Atlantic.

Vasu M.
.2 years ago

It makes sense to eat lower on the food chain!

Nor can fish provide any help in alleviating global hunger. There are signs that the fishing industry (which is quite energy-intensive) has already overfished the oceans in several areas. And fish could never play a major role in the worlds diet anyway: the entire global fish catch of the world, if divided among all the world's inhabitants would amount to only a few ounces of fish per person per week.