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Sustainable Fisheries

Learn more about some of the challenges facing fishery management

The nation’s premier marine fisheries law is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The MSA has enabled significant progress toward achieving sustainable U.S. fisheries, but there are still a number of challenges our fisheries face. These issues could be addressed through a range of solutions, including legislation and policy changes by the agency tasked with managing federal fisheries, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (also called NOAA Fisheries). A lot is at stake. Ocean ecosystems, Indigenous cultures, commercial and recreational fishing, and coastal livelihoods and economies all rely on abundant fish populations. Keep scrolling to learn more about rebuilding in federal fisheries and the challenges in bringing our fish stocks back to healthy levels when they are overfished.

Rebuilding Fish Stocks

Under the MSA over last two decades, fewer fish stocks are being fished at unsustainable rates and fewer stocks have become overfished, where their populations have declined to a point where managers must put a plan in place to rebuild the population back to a healthy size. Yet the latest data paints a more complicated picture about progress. Starting in 2017, there has been a concerning increase in the number of stocks declared overfished and in need of rebuilding. And while the number of stocks experiencing overfishing remains at historic lows, progress toward the goal of ending unsustainable fishing for good has stalled.

Fortunately, there are a number of changes to rebuilding that can improve outcomes for fish stocks. These include:

  1. Taking action when stocks are declining but are not yet at overfished levels, in order to avoid the need to rebuild in the first place;
  2. Monitoring progress of a rebuilding stock and taking action to keep the rebuilding plan on track;
  3. And if a rebuilding plan fails, making the next plan better.
    Learn more about rebuilding fish stocks here.

Addressing Climate Impacts on Fisheries

Climate change is dramatically reshaping our ocean and the communities that rely on it. Greenhouse gas emissions have made our ocean waters warmer, more acidic and lower in oxygen. At the same time, sea levels are rising and extreme events such as hurricanes, marine heatwaves, coastal erosion and sea ice loss are becoming more frequent.

These environmental changes are harming marine life and marine ecosystems and threaten our ocean and the people and fisheries that depend on them. Climate change is disrupting where fish are found, what they can eat, where they can live and how many there are. These changes are already impacting fisheries in our ocean waters, and fishery-dependent coastal economies and Indigenous communities and cultures are particularly vulnerable as the effects of climate change worsen. While many fishermen are ready to adapt, our systems to manage fisheries are not.

The opportunity to address climate impacts in fisheries lies in climate-ready fishery management. To achieve climate-ready fisheries, we must first ensure that our fisheries are healthy by ending overfishing and rebuilding them to sustainable levels. Then we must go further, using the best science and information to understand how our fisheries are changing, and then responding quickly to adapt to those changes. Much of this can be built onto the foundation of sustainable management created under the MSA, such as increasing the production of climate-relevant science and data, incorporating climate considerations in throughout the management process, considering the challenges of emerging impacts like shifting stocks and increased disasters and prioritizing action on fisheries and fishing communities that are most vulnerable to climate change.

Learn more about addressing climate impacts in fisheries here.

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