I recently wrote about some good news from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service regarding improvements in the health of U.S. ocean fish populations. In a little publicized but very important milestone, NOAA fisheries and the regional fishery management councils have completed a task set out by Congress in 2006: establishing enforceable, science-based annual catch limits (ACLs) that end and prevent overfishing. Perhaps fittingly, Alaska—a national model for science-based fisheries management and healthy, profitable fisheries—just capped this federal effort to end overfishing by officially amending its salmon fishery management plan.
Thanks to decades of bipartisan cooperation, we have one of the strongest fisheries management systems in the world. Over the years, presidents and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including President Gerald Ford and Sen. Warren Magnuson (D-WA) in 1976; President Bill Clinton, Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA), and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), in 1996; and President George W. Bush and Sen. Stevens in 2006, set aside partisan differences and came together to strengthen our nation’s ocean fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Thanks to their hard work, we now have measures in place to rebuild depleted ocean fish populations; to ensure that science, not politics, drives management decisions; and to end and prevent overfishing through ACLs.
Though we still have much work to do, this most recent accomplishment in Alaska is an important milestone in our efforts to secure profitable fisheries and healthy oceans. Around the country, we have examples of fish populations that are recovering thanks to the MSA’s conservation requirements, including Gulf red snapper and mid-Atlantic summer flounder (follow the links to see recipes for these species from celebrity chefs).
The U.S. fishery management system is one of the best in the world and science-based catch limits are an important cornerstone of it. However, we need to make sure that our fisheries research and science remain top-notch. New legislation, including the Fisheries Investment Act and congressional appropriations for science and management, are critical to maintain this momentum. Equally important, we should not weaken the conservation mandates of the MSA.