The Future of Fisheries – Is the Magnuson-Stevens Act up to the Challenge?

When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hosts its upcoming Washington summit…on the future of U.S. fisheries, it will mark the first step in the effort to again reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This meeting of stakeholders at Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries III should jumpstart congressional debate by requesting stronger legal authority to protect key habitat areas, requiring forward-thinking plans to maintain healthy ocean ecosystems, and safeguarding the small fish that help sustain life in the ocean.

– Lee Crockett, Pew Charitable Trusts

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was passed in 1976 and, after two reauthorizations in 1996 and 2006, represents the United States’ approach to fisheries management. That approach–one which has been critical to bringing many overfished species back from the brink–has largely employed a species-by-species approach. There is little doubt that the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been responsible for many improvements in the way our fisheries resources are managed and utilized, but some worry the litany of stressors to ecosystems upon which fisheries depend may be larger than the Act’s species-by-species approach can handle.

Lee Crockett, director of U.S. Fisheries Campaigns at The Pew Charitable Trusts, wrote in an opinion piece that appeared in The Miami Herald and many other news outlets across the country late last week, what many forward-thinking fisheries managers and fishers know: We can’t continue to manage species-by-species when the burdens to fisheries are ecosystems-wide. Specifically Crockett points ongoing stressors such as

  • Indiscriminate fishing practices
  • Warming temperatures
  • More acidic waters

“What we need to pay greater attention to is a changing world and a changing climate and what repercussions that will have,” said Chris Dorsett, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s fish conservation and gulf restoration program in a Washington Post piece yesterday. Early last month, and along the same lines, I quoted Ben Enticknapp of Oceana in response to the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopting a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP). “Clearly,” Enticknapp said, “federal managers have gotten the message that the days of crisis-based management, managing for a single species, and how to maximize catches are over.”

This week the third Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries conference will be held in Washington, D.C. and will focus on how concepts, policies, and practice of fishery sustainability can be advanced to a higher level. Attendees will include commercial and recreational fishers, policymakers, scientists, legislators, business leaders, and ocean advocates. In addition to other general, non-legislative topics regarding fisheries management, the discussion will address Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization.

What will be the blueprint for U.S. fisheries moving forward? Will the Magnuson-Stevens Act be maleable enough to meet the new challenges fisheries face? Perhaps more to the point, will the political will exist to truly protect key habitat areas and maintain healthy ocean ecosystems? Will the economics of recreational and commercial saltwater fisheries–$199 billion in sales with an attendant 1.7 million jobs in 2011–become incentive to conserve, or will the money and jobs involved lead to equivocation and a watered-down end result? These questions won’t be answered this week, but this week’s summit will be an important piece of the puzzle that will help shape the discussion moving forward.

About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
This entry was posted in Fishery Management Plans (FMP), Global Climate Change, Legislation, Overfishing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Future of Fisheries – Is the Magnuson-Stevens Act up to the Challenge?

  1. Pingback: A Way Forward for Coastal Communities – Bullard Says NOAA is on Fishermen’s Side | The Good Catch

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  3. Pingback: The US coast is in danger of losing our Federal protection against overfishing. | Sunset Daily

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