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What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: Prematurely Ending the Conversation on Fishery Management

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© Pixabay / cytis

The Senate Commerce Committee might prematurely end the conversation on fishery management before hearing the whole story.

Yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee held what is likely its final hearing of 2017 to get feedback from stakeholders on fishery management—and they have still only focused on one side of the story.

In hearing after hearing, Senators have heard from a wealth of witnesses who advocate for dismantling the core conservation standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) that have shown success on the water. The science-based catch limits required by the MSA prevent overfishing and help vulnerable stocks rebuild to healthy levels. The MSA is largely responsible for our nation’s remarkable progress in rebuilding overfished populations and restoring stability to fishing businesses and coastal communities. We are a long way from the bad old days before the MSA of cascading fishery disasters and plummeting fish populations.

If the Senate would invite representatives from the thousands of recreational and commercial fishermen, fishery scientists, seafood harvesters, academics and conservation organizations to testify they would learn that the MSA balances socioeconomic concerns and the desire for sustainable fish populations, by listening to both scientific and industry experts. These witnesses can tell the tale of the dramatic success of the MSA:

  • The MSA is flexible. The MSA is unique among natural resource laws, in that management is crafted by fishermen and other stakeholders to deal with specific regional challenges. This means that the requirements are customizable. For example, more than half of stocks in rebuilding plans have timelines over the law’s ten year standard limit on rebuilding.
  • Catch limits are working. Under the MSA, overfishing is at an all-time low and forty-one fish stocks have been rebuilt to healthy levels.
  • The MSA drives scientific innovation. Tasked with providing sound guidance for all federally managed fisheries, scientists have risen to the challenge. They have invented dozens of new methods for collecting and utilizing fisheries data, from statistical methods to remote sensing technologies. And as climate change presents new challenges that threaten the health of our ocean, NOAA is at the forefront in modeling and detecting changes in ocean conditions.

This conversation isn’t over yet. The future of our fishing communities depends on sound, science-based management with the long-term survival of our commercial and recreational fishing industries in mind. It’s time for the Senate to get back to work, hold another hearing and stop playing political games with the future of our nation’s fisheries.

National Academy of Sciences, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Fish Stock Rebuilding Plans in the United States, 
(Sept. 2013) at 81. 

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