Ocean Currents

Debunked: Does H.R. 200 Address Climate Change?

Spoiler alert: No, it doesn’t.

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After failing to garner any significant bipartisan support for their legislation to dismantle responsible fishery management, opponents of conservation are now grasping at straws and claiming that H.R. 200 helps address climate change.

Uh, what?

That’s right. Supporters of H.R. 200 are scrambling to convince democrats that their bill to undermine the core pillars of conservation in the current fishery management law is actually good for the environment because it acknowledges that climate change is real.

Here’s the problem with that story: The bill doesn’t even contain the words “climate” or “warming temperatures.”

These stories are feeding on common misconceptions about the rebuilding provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. One misconception is that environmental conditions, like climate change, can’t currently be considered in the rebuilding of a stock. In fact, they explicitly can be—managers consider both the biology of the stock and any other environmental conditions, like climate change, when developing rebuilding plans with timelines. Further, the fundamental goal of the MSA, which is to fish at an optimal level of sustainable catch each year, explicitly includes consideration of ecological, economic and social factors.

A second misconception is that the timelines for rebuilding are strict—actually, the majority of the stocks in rebuilding plans use built-in flexibility to set long periods of time for rebuilding, which lets Councils and fishermen spread necessary reductions in catch out over many years. Over half of stocks have rebuilding plans over 10 years; stocks are commonly in rebuilding plans of 25+ years, including red snapper and Atlantic halibut; and many stocks are in second or third rebuilding plans.

The flexibility is there. The flexibility is used.

What isn’t already in the law are egregious exemptions from the responsibility to manage our stocks sustainably, to rebuild them to healthy levels, and to ensure the long-term stability of both our ocean fish populations and the communities that depend upon them. But H.R. 200 would add that, in the name of “more flexibility.”

H.R. 200 says to divide stocks into those affected by only fishing and those that are affected by things other than fishing. And for that second category, it removes all responsibility to manage fishing in ways that would allow for rebuilding. Supporters of H.R. 200 are falsely claiming that this is somehow a thoughtful way to consider climate change. This isn’t considering climate change, it’s ignoring it.

The hard fact is that climate change is going to affect everything we care about; it puts our environment, our businesses, and our children’s futures at risk. That applies to fisheries too. If we throw up our hands and say “climate change is affecting our fisheries, which means we shouldn’t bother rebuilding the unhealthy or vulnerable ones” then we’re dramatically increasing the risk that our fishing communities fail when warming waters, shifting stocks, lower productivity, changes in prey availability and distribution, acidification and reduced habitats combine to damage our fish populations.

A real vision for tackling climate change’s effects on fisheries would be to understand that our fish stocks are part of interconnected ecosystems that are affected by all sorts of activities and phenomena.  We need to consider all of those connections so that our fisheries can support businesses and recreation for the long-term. We are going to need to proactively adapt to climate change—not remove basic requirements for sustainability.

H.R. 200 doesn’t have solutions for climate change and fisheries. H.R. 200 would chart a course where when faced with climate change impacts on natural resources, we simply give up and stop trying. That’s not a solution—that’s throwing in the towel.

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