Redfish illustration by Dina Chapeau, ORI 2013
I am writing to support a strong Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management Act, including more funding for the fisheries science and management necessary to adequately implement the law. There is much to put on the table for the Senate’s consideration – both positive and negative, what’s working and what’s not. Only the broadest and deepest perspectives will enable determinations of where and if modifications are needed. More science, not less, is necessary to inform the responsible stewardship that drives fishery decisions.
To take an ecosystem-based approach to manage hundreds of marine fish populations is a bit more complicated and unpredictable than is rocket science. To sustain fish stocks through perpetuity while always having a great diversity of healthy seafood available for all is a bit more difficult than is operating a widget factory. Because the ocean contains interrelationships between animals that we do not yet understand, and because the seas are changing in both expected and unexpected ways at the same time, the management of fish populations must be responsive and adaptive to changing conditions. Our best hope is, therefore, increased science and increased information from fishermen, subsistence users, interest groups and individuals. More science, not funding cuts, and more dialogue, less dogma, is needed for sustainable fisheries management.
The Magnuson Stevens Act sets the parameters for managing the fishing industry of this country. Under this law the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fisheries Management Councils have moved in the right direction to implement ecosystem-based management. Only 27 marine fish populations are currently subject to overfishing. NMFS and the Councils manage 446 fish and fish stock complexes. Of these 230 are commercially significant, the great majority of which are either in the process of recovery, rebuilt, or sustainably managed.
The redfish in New England, for example, suffered when Clarence Birdseye developed freezers for Gloucester fishing boats. In 1932, 100 metric tons of redfish were landed. In 1952 130,000 tons of redfish came ashore to market and the redfish population crashed. Frozen redfish had become the fish of choice for many and fed the U.S. military in the 1940s. Unlike most fish, the redfish gives birth to live young. Managers responded with a number of strict fishery management measures. A redfish rebuilding plan was implemented. The significant sacrifices of fishermen paid off and the Acadian redfish population rebounded. Managed by the New England Fishery Management Council’s Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, redfish were declared fully rebuilt in June of 2012.
Nationwide, the United States has made unprecedented strides to end overfishing and rebuild depleted fish populations over the last fifteen-plus years. NMFS reports that 34 federally-managed fish populations have been rebuilt from depleted or overfished levels since 2000. And the number of fish populations subject to overfishing is the lowest ever reported and less than half what it was a decade ago. This recent success is rooted in the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s requirements to end overfishing and rebuild overfished fish populations. To ensure continued success in restoring and maintaining healthy U.S. fish populations and fostering a sustainable, prosperous future for fishing communities, Congress must maintain, and not weaken, these core conservation requirements of the law.
Today we see fish in the wild and can always select from an array of fresh seafood thanks to the Magnuson Stevens Act and yeoman work by the Fisheries Councils informed by NOAA science. Conditions for fish and fishermen are only getting worse with increasing pollution, algal blooms, loss of nursery habitats, ocean dead zones, acidification, warming waters and shifting currents. Please keep the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management Act strong and ensure sufficient funding for its implementation so that new challenges may also be met and responsible stewardship of fish and fishing communities furthered.