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Congress Has a Chance to Prevent the Downfall of Our Fisheries

December 21, 2020
By
Danny Folds Legislative Counsel

By introducing a discussion draft to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Representatives Jared Huffman and Ed Case have taken a major step towards securing sustainable fisheries.

Thank you to Representatives Jared Huffman and Ed Case for taking an important step towards securing sustainable fisheries by introducing a discussion draft to reauthorize our nation’s fisheries statute, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how vulnerable and important our fisheries are, and the growing impacts of climate change have highlighted the dangerous gaps in our fishery management system. This bill would make significant progress towards addressing the biggest fisheries challenges of the past century: reducing bycatch (fish and animals accidentally caught by fishermen), preventing overfishing, and protecting essential fish habitat. It would also tackle the novel challenges of this century: managing fisheries that are shifting due to climate change, accounting for changing food webs, and monitoring changing ocean conditions, among others. 

Science-based management has been key to the MSA’s success over the past 40 years, allowing fishery management councils and federal agencies to account for the pressures upon fisheries as they develop management plans and set yearly fishing catch limits. We haven’t arrived at success yet, though. Chronic overfishing continues to jeopardize biodiversity, and failure to rebuild overfished stocks makes recovery less likely and more expensive. Habitat degradation continues to undermine conservation measures and to threaten the ocean ecosystems that fisheries support. And climate change increases the risk of overfishing, demanding even more comprehensive and up-to-date information to ensure our management models succeed. The last thing our fisheries need right now is greater risk of collapse.

This discussion draft brings us closer to fisheries management that truly prevents overfishing, minimizes harmful bycatch, and manages for healthy ecosystems, rather than attempting to manage each single species of fish in a vacuum. More must be done to ensure that the bill will support marine ecosystems in the face of changing ocean conditions, secure stable jobs, and produce healthy food. We are more aware than ever of the importance of precautionary, science-based management in ensuring the long-term health of fisheries and of the marine wildlife and habitats that Americans treasure. Reauthorizing the MSA is a valuable opportunity to implement the commonsense solutions to problems we have ignored for too long. We thank Representative Case and Representative Huffman for leading this collaborative effort, and we look forward to working with the congressmen to develop a bill that finally achieves the MSA’s original goals.

Anchovies, an essential food source for many marine predators, have suffered from overfishing for years.

Anchovies, an essential food source for many marine predators, have suffered from overfishing for years.

EVANTRAVELS / GETTY IMAGES