All my life, I’ve measured the “good life” with days on the water fishing. Escaping work, shunning worry and forgoing the pressures of daily life to enjoy the elemental world of water, weather and a fish has defined the happiest moments of my life. Actually, it’s a natural inheritance since my family has called Alabama and these Gulf waters home for several hundred years.
As with any natural inheritance, I tend to be protective of my roots. Supporting my protective bent, the United States has some of the best fisheries management practices in the world. The overall law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is effective because it is implemented using science-based rules, such as annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines, as currently defined by National Standard 1 (NS1). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is responsible for establishing and assessing these rules, and the nation’s eight regional fisheries management councils are mandated to execute them.
Doing the right thing can also be fun. For chefs like me, working within the limits required under U.S. sustainable fisheries management law these last ten years hasn’t been a burden, it’s been a bonanza.
Prior to 2006, when overfishing was still rampant in U.S. waters, the fishermen I buy from would often bemoan the fact that they didn’t have Atlantic cod, bluefin tuna or swordfish—the fish species American cuisine had grown to rely on. In other words, no fish and chips, no tuna sushi and no swordfish steak would be on the menu that night.
Who needs to know that American fish stocks may be once again at risk?
Everyone who dines on American seafood.
Every coastal town from the Northeast to the Gulf to Alaska that relies on commercial fishing.
Every U.S. marina where recreational fishing boats are moored.
Everyone who depends on a healthy marine ecosystem needs to know that in the next few weeks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is preparing to finalize changes to the science-based policies that form the backbone of how we manage our fisheries. These proposed rules could return our nation to the dangers of overfishing, threaten entire fish species, put fishermen and charter boat businesses at risk and undercut restaurants and coastal tourism as we experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) just took a huge step in preparing our ocean, fisheries and coastal communities for climate change. This type of foresight and required coordination is difficult, and hasn’t happened as often as it should in the past. The Western Regional Action Plan (WRAP) lays out why and how NFMS will develop, use, and apply science that helps West Coast fishery managers prepare for climate change.
I’m glad to end this week with great news for both fishermen and fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
On June 23, federal fisheries managers in the Gulf voted strongly in favor of keeping an innovative concept that is working well to provide recreational red snapper fishermen greater access while delivering greater economic stability for charter captains.
Amendment 40, known to fishermen as Sector Separation, allowed separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper. Approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in 2014, it sought to ensure that conservation goals stay on target. It was designed to allow for greater precision in managing the unique needs of two very different sets of fishermen with accountability as the key. It limited the likelihood that the fishery as a whole took more fish out of our ocean than allowed by law.
Last month, a collection of maps representing one of the largest known efforts to assemble and disseminate spatial data for multiple species of marine life was released in New England. This powerful new information database characterizes over 150 marine species through map based visualizations.
These data enhance our fundamental understanding of marine species and where they exist in the ocean, bringing us a step closer to a more comprehensive assessment of marine resources. In the end, the goal is to better inform decision-makers who are tasked with improving ocean ecosystems and enhancing our ocean economy.