National Policy

H.R. 200 Hurts Fish and Fishermen

Image via NEFSC/NOAA.

Yesterday, in a troubling vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 200, jeopardizing the future of sustainable fisheries and insulting the years of bipartisan, science-based efforts that have defined fisheries management in the United States.

The bill passed largely along party lines with only nine Democrats voting for it and 15 Republicans voting against it.

This is the first step by Congress to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The Senate still needs to pass a companion bill, but there is plenty of cause for concern at this time.

Magnuson-Stevens is working

The MSA, initially passed in 1976, is the primary U.S. law governing federal fisheries. In 1996 and 2006, Congress reauthorized the MSA with broad bipartisan agreement and strengthened the conservation and science-based management provisions that have since been the backbone of the law. These provisions are why the U.S. has sustainable fisheries today.

The MSA relies on science and data to set annual catch limits for federally managed stocks, and for the most part, the system is working. As of 2017, the MSA has helped rebuild 44 stocks since 2000 and has reduced overfishing of stocks to an all-time low: only 15 percent of stocks are overfished and 9 percent are subject to overfishing.

After yesterday, this is all at risk.

H.R. 200 is bad for fisheries – and fishermen agree

Lawmakers claim that H.R. 200 increases “flexibility” of fisheries management, but flexibility is just another word for increased exploitation. H.R. 200 creates loopholes around science-based catch limits, increasing the chances the overfishing. It also weakens requirements for rebuilding timelines for overfished stocks, undercutting chances of recovery.

Though some of the troubling language of the bill was removed prior to the final vote – like prioritizing the MSA over bedrock environmental laws – H.R. 200 is still a short-sighted decision that, if becomes law, will have long-term impacts. Even fishing groups are concerned.

A letter from the Fishing Communities Coalition, a group of community-based, small boat commercial fishing organizations from around the country, told Congress:

“H.R. 200 would undo [sustainable fisheries] progress and imperil fish, fishermen, and fishing communities . . . [by exempting] some fisheries from catch limits, sacrificing long-term sustainability for short-term gains. This anti-science, anti-sustainability bill guts core conservation provisions of the MSA, dramatically weakening it and risking our success to date.”

These concerns are particularly relevant for New England, a region that already struggles to responsibly manage our most iconic stocks. Atlantic cod has been overfished for decades, and the Gulf of Maine stock is already not on track to meet its 2024 rebuilding deadline. These stocks, among others, require more comprehensive protections, not relaxed regulations.

It’s now up to the Senate to protect the past success and future health of U.S. fisheries. We need to maintain a strong MSA to promote the conservation of public resources as well as the economic well-being of communities that depend on healthy fisheries.

 


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