By Lee Crockett
A congressional hearing today on the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act examined a new report from the National Academies on the law’s effectiveness in rebuilding depleted fish populations. As a member of the peer-review panel for the report, I can attest to the amount of work that went into this study, which clearly recognizes our nation’s overall success in restoring fish stocks. But I also have serious concerns that some of its findings could lead some members of Congress to support new loopholes that could weaken our nation’s primary fisheries management law.
Released last week, the report reviews U.S. fisheries management since 2006. It rightly states that the current legal requirements have, “resulted in demonstrated successes in identifying and rebuilding overfished stocks.” The study also affirms that we need to prevent fish populations from becoming depleted in the first place. Such careful management would require fisheries managers to monitor the health of these fish stocks and decrease the amount of fishing if numbers decline below healthy levels. This approach would avert situations in which rebuilding is needed.
The progress noted in the report reinforces what many policymakers already know. Changes made to the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1996 and 2006—including establishment of timelines to rebuild depleted fish populations and requirements to set annual science-based catch limits that prevent overfishing--are working. Thanks to these policy tools, 33 depleted fish species have been restored to healthy levels since 2000. Northwestern Atlantic sea scallops, Gulf of Mexico red grouper, and Pacific lingcod are among those that have rebounded under the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s rebuilding requirements.
Such prudent fisheries management is good not only for these fisheries but also for the communities that rely on fishing for their livelihoods. Economists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service estimated in 2011 that rebuilding all depleted U.S. fish stocks that year would have generated an additional $31 billion in sales, supported an additional 500,000 jobs, and increased the revenue that fishermen receive at the dock by $2.2 billion. The financial benefits of healthy fisheries for coastal communities are huge. More....