Keep Oceans Fishy - Sailors for the Sea

Keep Oceans Fishy

By: Whitney Webber, Ocean Advocate, Oceana | December 14, 2017

New Fisheries Bill Threatens 40 Years of Progress in Fisheries Management

The United States is a fishing nation. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, commercial fisheries in the U.S. harvest more than 4 million metric tons of fish from its waters every year. Additionally, in 2015 nearly 9 million marine recreational anglers made more than 60 million fishing trips. These industries provide millions of American jobs, tons of seafood and billions of dollars in GDP every year.

The success of our fisheries, and the United States’ legacy of sustainable fisheries management, is due in large measure to the bipartisan Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Since it was first passed in 1976, and through two subsequent reauthorizations in 1996 and 2006, the law has helped halt overfishing, protect essential fish habitats and rebuild depleted stocks. The Magnuson-Stevens Act made the U.S. a global leader in fisheries management and is known as one of the most effective fishery laws in the world today.

In the 40-plus years since it was passed by Congress in 1976, the law has helped prevent the overexploitation of U.S. marine resources by foreign fleets while also providing fishery managers with the legal tools to sustainably manage our nation’s ocean fisheries. Its subsequent amendments have strengthened conservation provisions with significant bipartisan support.

Iconic and regionally important stocks such as Atlantic scallops, Gulf of Mexico red snapper, Mid-Atlantic summer flounder and Pacific widow rockfish can still be caught today thanks to management measures laid down in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The legacy of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington lives on through this piece of legislation. Since 2000, 43 overfished fish stocks have been rebuilt and the number of stocks subject to overfishing has declined by two-thirds. Since the Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized in 2006, the annual dollar value of commercial fish landings in the United States has increased by over $1 billion dollars. It is abundantly clear that the law is working.

It is not at all clear, therefore, why some in the current legislature seek to undermine some of these important advances. Unlike the previous amendments to the law, which have moved toward better management, a bill introduced to the 115th Congress in January 2017 would undermine important protections that help ensure abundant oceans.

The Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 200) would create unnecessary loopholes for avoiding timelines to rebuild vulnerable fish populations. It would strike a blow to public transparency, limiting the ability of citizens to access basic fishery information. It would also remove requirements to set catch limits based on scientific data, which would significantly increase the risk of overfishing. This bill would do nothing to eliminate wasteful bycatch—the catch of non-target fish and ocean wildlife, including threatened species such sea turtles and sharks, that is often thrown back into the ocean already dead or dying.

This bill is a clear effort to undermine core environmental protections in our country and could impair fundamental laws that H.R. 200 would have precedence over such as the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

When originally passed in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act received overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats, because supporting U.S. fishermen while also protecting vulnerable species and habitat areas is a win for both fishermen and our ocean ecosystems. It is critical that Congress not reverse the meaningful progress that has been made through this legislation and it should instead focus on ensuring the continued success and health of one of our nation’s most important natural resources.

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