National Policy

An Opportunity to Build Stronger, Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations

An olive cod swims through kelp at Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry.

This post was originally featured by Conservation Law Foundation

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the federal law governing nation’s fisheries, is up for reauthorization in Congress. The MSA has worked in rebuilding fish populations; now, it should be strengthened to ensure we’re able to save and restore still-struggling species like the iconic Atlantic cod – before it’s too late. 

Consider these three facts:

  • New England’s commercial fisheries brought in $1.2 billion in revenue in 2012, up from $691 million in 2003 – a 72 percent increase.
  • In 2013, two-thirds of the U.S. fish species that had been struggling to rebound from overfishing showed signs of bouncing back.
  • According to NOAA, rebuilding all overfished stocks would lead to a $31 billion increase in annual fish sales and support for half a million jobs!

The Magnuson-Stevens Act is the driving force behind these impressive numbers. Since it was originally passed in 1976, the MSA has been the primary U.S. law governing fisheries in federal waters. In 2007, Congress reauthorized the law, adding measures to increase the success of the act’s four commitments: to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase long-term economic and social benefits, and ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood.

It’s clear that the U.S. is making significant progress in restoring the health of many fisheries and helping grow jobs and the economy in the process. But in some places – such as here in New England – some critical fish populations have been slow to rebound (in some cases, even plateauing or getting worse). Because of this, we believe there is more work to be done to ensure the next iteration of the MSA builds on the 2007 law’s success and continues to help our fish populations recover.

Saving our iconic cod

One of these still-struggling populations is Atlantic cod, which has been important to New Englanders for centuries. It is part of our history and culture and is interwoven into our recreation and our economy. We know that cod used to be so abundant, fishermen told stories of cod jumping up into their boats and “walking across” their backs while out on the water. That this iconic fish has been overfished for decades and is not rebounding is a source of frustration for all of us.

Additional threats from climate change impacts and ocean acidification compound the problem. We must do more to make sure that cod is managed with the best available science, the long-term health of the species, and our coastal communities in mind.

A strengthened MSA is the best way to ensure all our fisheries can become and remain sustainable. Only then will we know that cod won’t just be a part of our history, but of our future, too.

Bills threaten progress

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have begun to hold hearings on the reauthorization of the MSA. But instead of building on the gains made in the 2007 version of the law, current proposals would open the door to a complete reversal of decades of progress.

In the House of Representatives, proposed bill H.R. 200 would weaken scientific standards in fisheries management and potentially open up loopholes that would allow fishermen to catch more than the data suggests is healthy for sustaining fish populations. It would also allow managers more opportunities to opt-out of setting reasonable timelines for restoring at-risk fish populations. Another bill under consideration, H.R. 2023, would allow most fisheries to opt out of adhering to sustainable fishing quotas.

And based on the testimonies given in the Senate during a recent Commerce subcommittee hearing, it appears there will be a similar battle to fight in that chamber.

Such proposals are clearly the wrong direction to take if we are going to secure a healthy future for New England’s fisheries. We’re not alone in objecting to these efforts to strip the MSA of some of its most effective provisions. More than 200 scientists sent a letter to Congress on October 23 opposing any effort to weaken the law.

You can help!

Here’s how you can help: Watch and share these videos to learn more. You’ll hear from people who know firsthand the value of the MSA and the importance of strengthening it: a charter boat captain, the manager of a community-supported fishery, a prominent marine scientist, and CLF’s fisheries legal expert.

After you’ve had a chance to check out the videos, we urge you to contact your representatives at 202.224.3121 to let them know you support a strengthened MSA that will allow us to rebuild cod stocks and maintain healthy, sustainable fisheries for future generations.


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