There are More Fish in the Sea Because the Magnuson-Stevens Act is Working

Let’s not undermine the MSA in the name of short-term gain

The Senate Commerce Committee just held another hearing on the potential reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the law that governs how many fish US fishermen can catch.  But the panel didn’t adequately represent what science tells us about how to sustainably manage fish to prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks to realize the full potential of the nation’s fishery resources–the main goals of the MSA.

That’s why I’ve joined more than 200 scientists to urge Congress to reject efforts to weaken science-based management of our fish stocks. There is no question that history has shown us that science-based fisheries management, with the long-term sustainability of fish stocks and healthy ocean ecosystems in mind, is necessary to balance the interests of all fishermen–commercial, recreational and for-hire–to ensure we can have our fish and eat them too.

The science is crystal clear:

  • Fish stocks are now recovering because science-based annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines were put in place by Congress a decade ago. And the evidence shows they are working.

U.S. fishery management has become a model for the rest of the world, but it took a lot of hard work to get there. Our coasts used to be defined by crashing fish stocks and out-of-business fishing communities. But with a strong push from organizations like Ocean Conservancy, lawmakers put new protections in place to prevent short-term political and economic pressure from allowing managers to set catch levels above sustainable levels. Now, a team of scientists working in each region of the United States evaluates the best scientific information available and advises regional managers on what levels of fishing are sustainable in the long run. The result–annual catch limits that prevent overfishing and allow for rebuilding–helps ensure responsible fisheries management. Most fishermen, fishery managers, and other stakeholders have followed the law and made personal sacrifices to allow fish to recover from those years of poor decisions to make sure there are fish in the water for the future. If Congress ends the science-based measures that facilitated this progress it will only void the hard work that has been done. Bringing back the bad old days of plummeting fish populations would be bad for fish and fishermen alike.

  • Make no mistake: Even though we’ve made progress, there is still work to be done.

Cod was one of the reasons people settled New England. This fish is deeply entwined in the history of our nation.  And cod was a big part of my diet as a child growing up in Massachusetts. But overfishing drove the stock to exceedingly low levels and by the time I was a teenager, I no longer found it in the supermarket. Today, the problem continues–Gulf of Maine cod and Georges Bank cod (2 different “stocks” of fish that live in different part of the Gulf of Maine) have been subject to overfishing for at least 15 consecutive years. This means that fishing rates are too high and as a result cod can’t recover to healthier levels. Across the country, while many stocks are in rebuilding plans, some of these species have another 10, 20, or even 50 years to go before scientists and managers think they will be healthy and abundant again.

Some now want to change the rules to allow overfishing to continue on stocks like cod, or to let some fishermen–like recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico–exceed science-based catch levels without consequence, even if it hurts the stock and commercial and for-hire fishermen. This is the wrong way to go; it isn’t fair and it isn’t supported by the science.

Scientists from across the nation agree. The best way to protect fishing for the future is to support science-based fisheries management. Doing so will protect the health of our ocean and its fish, the fishermen that make a living from the sea, and seafood consumers like me.

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