Overfishing 101: Why Ending Overfishing is Good for Both Fish and Fishermen Alike

NOTE: This is a guest post from Lee Crockett, Director of Federal Fisheries Policy at the Pew Environment Group

This post is the sixth in a series, “Overfishing 101.” The entire series can be viewed here.

As a lifelong angler, I’m the first to admit that fishing can inspire passionate arguments about where, when and how to fish. But decisions about how to rebuild our depleted fish populations must be based on science and facts, not emotion or ideology.

In this post I’d like to explore a few arguments that some people use to make the case for weakening the laws designed to end overfishing.

Myth #1 – Fisheries management can only be deemed successful when fishermen are catching fish, businesses are serving fishermen and fish populations are healthy and rebuilding.

If we rebuild all of our fish populations to healthy levels, we have indeed achieved success, for they are the foundation upon which fishing businesses and fishermen can thrive. Fishermen and their communities need healthy marine populations for successful businesses and great catches. According to a recent study by the University of British Columbia’s Fishery Economics Unit, the economic value of many U.S. fisheries could triple by 2016, but only if federal managers stick to the congressionally mandated guideline of rebuilding depleted populations.[i]

But to achieve these benefits, the nation must set firm catch limits based on sound science and enforce them. Sacrificing conservation for short-term economic gain is not the answer. Congress has rejected this course since 1996, when it prohibited setting unsustainably high fishing levels for purely financial reasons. It did so again in 2006 when it passed legislation to block a federal court decision allowing overfishing in the early stages of a rebuilding plan to minimize economic impacts.[ii]

Myth #2 – U.S. fisheries management is inflexible, dominated by bureaucrats located hundreds of miles away from fishing communities and doesn’t include input from local stakeholders.

Many people do not realize that fisheries management decisions in the U.S., including rebuilding plans and yearly quotas, are primarily driven by regional stakeholders through the eight regional fishery management councils located in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Pacific, North Pacific and Western Pacific regions. These councils include representatives of the coastal states, commercial and recreational fishermen, federal government agencies and others with expertise in fisheries management in the region.

The council system is designed to solicit input for decisions from fishermen and other stakeholders throughout the management process. The general public also has an opportunity to help shape management plans by participating in committee meetings, making statements at public hearings and providing written comments to the councils.

Bottom line — though the MSA has clear mandates to end overfishing and rebuild depleted fish populations, regions have latitude under the law to achieve these goals in a manner that works best for their specific fisheries and communities.

Myth # 3 – The methods used by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to collect recreational fishing data result in serious inaccuracies.

To collect data on recreational fishing, the government monitors catch at the dockside, and through self-reported data from logbooks, catch cards and telephone surveys. Fisheries managers consistently strive for even better ways to count recreational catches.

For example, a revised collection system for recreational data — the Marine Recreational Information Program — has been underway since January 2007. This program is helping to improve dockside catch monitoring, self reporting and targeted telephone surveys.[iii]

In addition to data on recreational fishing participation, other sources that go into scientific assessments include [iv]:

  • Data collected by government research vessels on the distribution and abundance of fish from eggs to adults. This category includes the size, age, sex and biological characteristics of the fish sampled.
  • Data from commercial and recreational fishermen that quantify the number, size, sex, age and distribution of the fish brought back to shore and those that are discarded at sea.

The Pew Environment Group is working with NMFS and Congress to improve data collection, and with the scientific community to develop new ways to collect recreational fishing data.

Next time, I’ll take a closer look at the charge that fisheries managers are making decisions based on bad science.


[i] U. R. Sumaila et al., “Fish Economics: The Benefits of Rebuilding U.S. Ocean Fish Populations,” Fisheries Economics Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. (October 2005), www.feru.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/publications/Sumaila2005_RebuildingBenefitsUSA.pdf.

[ii] Oceana, Inc. v. Evans, No. 04-811, 2005 WL 555416 (D.D.C. Mar. 9, 2005)

[iii] NOAA, Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) website: https://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov/.

[iv] NMFS, FishWatch website, “Fisheries Management”: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/management.htm.


Related Stories:

Overfishing 101: How Ocean Fish Populations are Managed in the U.S.

Overfishing 101: How Ocean Fish Populations are Managed in the U.S. (Part 2)

Overfishing 101: The Importance of Rebuilding Our Fish Populations Without Delay

Overfishing 101: Why Ending Overfishing Pays Off in the Long Run


Photo: NOAA


Anja N.
Justin R6 years ago

Thank God! It was obvious a long time ago!

Bob Hobbes
Bob Hobbes6 years ago

Catherine T., You understand completely....Have a great day..

Bob Hobbes
Bob Hobbes6 years ago

Part of the demise of fish population,is the management of our state fish and game departments..It's only about the "Money" not the fish or the game....

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim6 years ago

The fishes are quickly depleting! We need to stop overfishing them.

Laurie H.
Laurie H6 years ago

What will it take for people to understand? It seems the answer is eventually, everyone will be going veg--- not a bad idea anyway. ~~

wendi h.
wendi huffman6 years ago

Why is commonsense ignored?

Karen & Edward O.
Karen and Ed O6 years ago

Well said!

Catherine T.
Cat T6 years ago

One day the whole world will have to turn vegan or vegetarian or we will cease to exist. Overfishing and pollution will stop people from eating fish and human over-population will put an end to pretty much everything else.

Hope S.
Hope S6 years ago

Individual anglers are not the problem. It is commercial fisherment that must be controlled.
And the oceans are being depleted by using droft nets up to 37 miles long capturing everything, long lines up to 62 miles long catching as a bycatch just along the African Atlantic Coast more than seven million sharks and rays die by longline fishing as bycatch. Also more than 34'000 birds and more than 4'000 turtles die every single year only along this coast line.

Worldwide more than 100'000 Albatross die each year just because of the longline fishing. The bycatch of commercial longline fishing for tunas can reach more than 90 percent. They catch for example 4-5 times more sharks than tunas. Then there is the use of dynamite which also kills not only the surface fish which are used but also other fish not used.

See: http://www.visiondive.com/sites/protection/english/fishing.html

Bottom trawling not only catches everything but also permanently damages the sea floor and destroying the environment for the sea life.

We must take steps to stop over fishing and the use of damaging ways of catching fish.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

If you empty the cup there is nothing to drink. Over kill the fish and there will be nothing to eat. Pollute the air and there will be nothing to breathe.