Congress shouldn’t undermine conservation measures that can help rebuild New England fisheries

Fisheries managers should take an ecosystem-based approach, including protection for forage fish like these river herring. (Photo Credit Tim and Doug Watts)

This piece was written by Loren McClenachan, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College in Waterville who received her doctorate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

This article originally appeared in the Bangor Daily News and is excerpted below. For the full opinion piece, click here.

Decades of overfishing have severely depleted Gulf of Maine cod, yellowtail flounder and many other fish that were once staples of our coastal economy. In fact, as of last December, there are a dozen New England fish stocks that are currently classified as “overfished” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Maine’s history was built upon fishing, and for generations the sea was thought to be inexhaustible. Now, with some of our once-plentiful fish populations overfished, this has meant strict management plans and reductions in catch limits to help rebuild the stocks. Both have had tough impacts on fishermen and coastal communities that rely on them.

But if there aren’t enough fish left out there to support a thriving industry, what can we do?

We must rebuild our depleted fisheries to ensure longer-term sustainability of this important resource and long-term benefits to coastal communities.

Conservation measures in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, like science-based rebuilding plans, have helped to successfully return Georges Bank silver hake and pollock to sustainable levels. A 2011 assessment conducted by economists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service estimated that rebuilding all depleted fish stocks nationwide would lead to $31 billion in increased economic revenue and support an additional 500,000 jobs.

Congress is now beginning to consider the re-authorization of the law that governs our nation’s commercial and recreational fishing grounds from three to 200 miles offshore, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. There is an opportunity in this process to strengthen the act, so it can prevent overfishing and continue to help rebuild Maine’s depleted fisheries.

Congress needs to establish an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. We need a system that takes rising ocean temperatures and the destruction of fish habitat into account. We need stronger protections for the smaller forage fish, keystone species that provide food for larger fish such as cod.

With nearly 230 miles of shoreline, the small picture-postcard communities that dot Maine’s coastline need a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act to thrive over the long term. Only with a holistic approach to conservation can we move forward with new fisheries management plans that are truly up to the task of benefiting our fishermen, our coastal communities and our ocean environment.


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