What should the future of fishing look like?

The Managing Our Nation's Fisheries III conference will take place this week in Washington, DC.

This week in Washington, D.C., a diverse group of people will try to answer this question. The Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries III conference is the first step towards revising the nation’s law governing fisheries management. The Magnuson-Stevens Act was first signed in 1976, and it was reauthorized in 1996 and 2006, each time improving the conservation goals, building on the successes, and learning from the difficulties of the previous years. At the conference, federal and state officials, scientists, fishermen, and environmental groups will all be putting their ideas on the table for a vision of fisheries management.

It’s a good time to look back at the last few years and see what has worked to improve the state of our nation’s marine resources, and what parts of the system are still struggling. A new report from Pew and the Ocean Conservancy does just that, highlighting the successful rebuilding of some species (like New England’s scallops, winter flounder, and monkfish) over the last decade, while also showing where there’s room for improvement—better habitat protection, reducing bycatch, and protecting key forage fish species.

Although the U.S. has made progress by setting catch limits for all federally-managed species, New England remains a problem child when it comes to ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks. NOAA recently released their annual “Status of the Stocks” report, another chance to look back and see where we are as a nation on the fisheries management front. As usual, New England doesn’t fare so well. Of the 29 stocks on the national overfishing list, 8 are in New England. And 13 of the 41 overfished stocks are here in our region. In both cases New England has more stocks in trouble than does any other region in the country.

For New England to get out of the difficult situation we are in, we’ll need to stop expecting the same stale ideas  that got us into this mess to get us out of it. Short-term solutions will not help our struggling fish stocks rebuild, make them more resilient in the face of future challenges like climate change, or ensure the long-term economic viability of our fishing fleet. That will take new ideas, updated science and a collaborative approach across stakeholder groups. Hopefully next week’s conference will be a bridge to that brighter future.

Portions of the Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries conference will be available via live web streaming at this link.


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