Ocean Currents

Here We Go Again

Fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico.
© Tom McCann / Ocean Conservancy

H.R. 200 is yet another bad idea for the future of fisheries

H.R. 200, a bill to reauthorize and amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), would threaten the future of healthy fish populations and sustainable fisheries by creating loopholes in the MSA, watering down legal standards and decreasing accountability. At risk are not just healthy fish populations, but the fishermen and businesses that depend on our nation’s fish.

H.R. 200 is the House’s third attempt to craft a partisan reauthorization bill in recent years. The two previous versions gained no traction in the Senate. The bill is so bad that Ranking Member Jared Huffman took to Twitter to live tweet a fact-check of the falsehoods being told about the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) at this week’s Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee hearing on H.R. 200.

H.R. 200’s provisions would undermine the science-based conservation tools in the current law that are at the root of so much of the success in preventing overfishing, restoring still-depleted fish populations, and stabilizing coastal communities harmed by decades of overfishing. The MSA is largely responsible for our nation’s remarkable progress in rebuilding overfished populations and restoring stability to fishing businesses and coastal communities.

H.R. 200 would do irreparable harm to our fisheries by:

  • Letting fish stay at unhealthy levels instead of rebuilding them.
  • Removing science-based sustainable limits on catch from potentially hundreds of species.
  • Letting one sector of fishermen—private anglers—fish with less accountability.
  • Undermining bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and the Antiquities Act of 1906, which is used to establish marine monuments.

We are a long way from the bad old days before the MSA of cascading fishery disasters and plummeting fish populations. However, despite this incredible progress, some challenges remain – and instead of rising to meet them, some in Congress are convinced that lowering standards is the better path.

H.R. 200 joins two other bills in the House—H.R. 2023 and H.R. 3588—in trying to roll back the successes we’ve seen in fishery management. These bills are based on the same tired complaints we’ve heard time and again.

We share Mr. Huffman’s desire to clear up a few things. Here’s the truth about fisheries management:

  • The MSA is flexible. The law has key conservation criteria—prevent overfishing with science-based annual limits and rebuild depleted stocks as quickly as possible – but the path to achieving those goals is created through collaboration between federal managers, states, fishermen, and regional experts on fishery management councils. It’s clear from the results that this flexibility is in use. For example, more than half of stocks in rebuilding plans use the exception for long-lived species to have rebuilding timelines over ten years. And managers have lots of choices for how to manage a fishery, as long as they can keep catch under the sustainable amount.
  • Recreational fishing data is making drastic improvements. The National Academy of Sciences recently said that the Marine Recreational Information Program’s improvements “yielded impressive progress over the past decade in providing more reliable catch data to fishery managers.”
  • The MSA works for commercial, for-hire AND recreational fishermen. Removing requirements for science-based catch limits, either from the everyone or just one group, hurts fishing communities across the board because it leads to significant overfishing and the depletion of critical fish stocks. That means fewer fish for everyone.
  • The states, and state data, are a key part of the management process already. Representatives from state wildlife agencies are voting members on every fishery management council. States are key partners in collecting fishery data and enforcing safety and management rules. While this partnership can absolutely be improved—we’ve seen that state water management can create problems for federal seasons, and we need more work from both the states and the feds to improve how and when data is collected—we will get better management outcomes from working together to ensure sustainable fisheries for everyone.

The future of our fishing communities depends on sound, science-based management that makes sure we leave enough fish in the water to sustain jobs, businesses, fishing culture and the ecosystem for the long-term. It’s time set the record straight and stop playing political games with the future of our nation’s fisheries.

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