The numbers are in—and we have great news for America’s ocean fisheries! NOAA recently released its annual report to Congress summarizing how the United States is doing in managing its ocean fisheries. The Status of Stocks report for 2017 showed good improvement and is a testament to the impressive progress that we’ve made under our nation’s landmark fishery law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).
There is a lot to celebrate in the new report. The percentage of stocks that were overfished in 2017 was at an all-time low—just 15% of stocks. This means that the majority of the fish stocks tracked have large enough population sizes to provide sustained catch. In addition, only nine percent of stocks were experiencing overfishing, which is when the rate of fishing is too high. This remained the same as the previous two years and suggests that fisheries are in larger part successfully staying within science-based catch limits.
With three fish stocks rebuilt just last year, there have been a total of 44 stocks brought back to healthy levels since 2000. The stocks rebuilt in 2017 were three rockfishes from the Pacific coast. These populations were successfully rebuilt ahead of schedule, bringing the stocks back to sustainable populations before estimates deemed possible. This is no small feat, and it speaks to the strength of our management system. The trend in rebuilding is positive, but there are still many stocks in the process of being rebuilt and others where rebuilding plans are just now being developed.
Overall, the report shows just how far our fishery management has come. The situation today is a far cry from that of two decades ago, when more than a quarter of fish stocks were experiencing overfishing, almost 40% were overfished and none had been rebuilt. This turnaround was only possible because of the MSA and important revisions to the law that required managers to set science-based catch limits, take concrete steps to overfishing and make deadlines for rebuilding stocks.
Positive changes like these are part of what makes our fishery management a model for the rest of the world. But now isn’t the time to rest on our laurels—the work doesn’t end because many of our fish stocks are now doing well. Some of our iconic fish, such as the Atlantic cod, continue to be overfished and experiencing overfishing. Climate change poses growing challenges for managing our fish stocks sustainably.
The stakes are high. Healthy fish stocks are critical for a strong economy and environment. Fortunately, we are on the right path. Thanks to the MSA and the managers and fishermen who are working together to rebuild and sustain our fisheries, we can continue this progress and make sure that there are plenty of fish to catch today, tomorrow, and for years to come.