More Congressional Fisheries Misdirection

Summer flounder may be moving north, sparking a debate on quota allocations. (Photo credit: NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center).

Despite its caption, the “Transparent and Science-Based Fishery Management Act of 2012,” H.R. 6350, introduced by U.S. Representative John Runyun of New Jersey just hours before Congress adjourned for summer recess on August 2nd is a misguided piece of legislation.  It brings political interference and micro-management back into fisheries management, thwarts science-based decisions, costs jobs and any hope of increased prosperity for hundreds of fishing families, eliminates government and fisherman accountability for a public resource, and reverses the painful progress and sacrifice that has been made in recent years to restore many of America’s once-bountiful fisheries.

New England certainly doesn’t need this bill.  All it would do here is to pull fishing families and businesses back into the tar pit of mismanagement and economic and social decline from which they have been struggling to escape for the past two decades. Whatever Representative Runyan’s intentions might be, the only outcome this legislation guarantees is more chaos and productivity losses in this nation’s fisheries.

In 2006, important accountability provisions were introduced into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and recent reviews of fisheries management indicate that they are working to rebuild fish stocks. Despite this success, Representative Runyun is trying to un-do these provisions. In 2006, 28 % of the nation’s fisheries for which data was available were overfished; in those fisheries with adequate data, 26% of them were subject to overfishing. By June 2012, just one or two years after the new Magnuson measures took effect, 23% remained in an overfished condition and overfishing was down to 17%. Not great after 35 years of federal management but headed the right way. Unfortunately, New England’s fish stocks–the poster child for what happens with “management flexibility”—remained among the worst in the nation.

New England managers have destroyed hundreds of good fishing businesses and plummeted cod populations to levels never seen in history by catering to short term economic interests at the expense of long term profitability.  In the New England groundfish fishery, overfishing and mismanagement have resulted in significant revenue losses. If stocks were at managed at sustainable levels, current groundfish revenues could be three times greater – infusing New England’s economy with nearly $170 million in additional dockside revenues compared to 2010 revenues. In New England, we’ve seen the human and ecological damage caused by ”flexible fishery management.” It doesn’t work. Not for the fish and not for the fishermen..

If Congressman Runyun cared about fisheries, he would lead the charge to secure adequate federal appropriations for better research, better stock assessments, more data, better assessment technology research and development, and innovative gear research by fishermen, not file backward laws. Unfortunately, he appears to be more interested in demagoguery and ideology than he is in solving real fisheries problems. From where I sit, his legislation is a political distraction to the real work that needs to be done —  restoring sustainable fisheries and communities in New England.


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