Charles A. Witek, III is an attorney, salt water angler and blogger.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ successful rebuilding of the summer flounder stock was one of the mid-Atlantic region’s greatest conservation success stories.
By 1989, summer flounder had become severely overfished. The total spawning stock was estimated at a mere 5,521 metric tons, and biologists were able to find very few fish that were more than two years old. After that, a very slow rebuilding process began, which was badly hindered by managers who subordinated the needs of the recovering stock to the short-term economic concerns of the fishing industry.
In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating stand out #WomeninConservtion all week long. Here, Corey Ridings, a Policy Analyst with our Sustainable Fisheries team, reflects on the representation of women in fisheries management.
Our ocean fish populations are managed in a unique system where stakeholders take a lead role in crafting management strategies. But historical patterns have resulted in significant underrepresentation of women in this process.
America’s federal fisheries are largely managed by a group of stakeholder councils that include 116 voting members across eight regions. The original vision for this system, outlined in 1976 by Congress, was bold and idealistic: directly include those with local interests and regional experience in the management process. Membership includes state managers, federal agency representatives and stakeholders nominated by state Governors and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce.
A system upgrade that will help ensure there are plenty of fish in the sea.
There are many ways to have a good day out on the water. The ocean gives us endless opportunities to find joy, exhilaration and happiness—playing on the beach, snorkeling, diving and fishing. Most recreational fishermen I know measure their good days by the number and size of fish they’ve reeled in. But it turns out those numbers are important for another reason, too—that’s critical data that ensures there are plenty of fish left for not just for your next trip but also for your kids’ and their grandkids’ trips.
Recreational fishing is a big deal in areas like the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic. That means a lot of folks are out on the water and those coolers of fish start to add up. In 2015, 8.9 million saltwater anglers took 61 million fishing trips in U.S. waters. This industry is responsible for driving $60 billion in sales impacts into coastal communities through purchases like fishing trips and equipment, spending in hotels and restaurants.
Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order that intends to reduce government regulations and associated costs to businesses and the federal government. The President claims this will help small businesses, but for the men and women making their living off the ocean, the order could pose some serious problems.
Known as “one in two out,” the order states that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.”
How does this relate to fisheries? America’s fishermen are constantly adapting—to new science, to changing conditions on the water and to fishing seasons. They rely on fishery managers to make decisions that weigh environmental conditions, the best available science and fishermen input. Armed with this information, managers develop solutions that not only protect our environment, but support commercial and recreational fishing and coastal communities across America. And the method for implementing these day-to-day management decisions? Regulations.
Do you remember how excited we were in June when a revolutionary set of maps depicting where marine mammals, fish, and birds are distributed in New England was released? Well, let’s just say, we were pretty excited. You can only imagine our excitement when the Mid-Atlantic released a similar set of maps this month, characterizing the spatial and temporal distributions for over 100 species in the region. This is a big deal.
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.