In the past four decades, we’ve made meaningful progress toward ending overfishing in U.S. waters and rebuilding fish populations. And we have a little-known law with a long name to thank: the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the MSA, we’re sharing fishery success stories to remind us that the MSA is a keeper. Here are three species that have all benefitted from MSA regulations in the Atlantic (and don’t forget to read our other success stories from the Gulf!).
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA, is a landmark piece of environmental legislation that led to significant conservation gains in the Gulf of Mexico. While the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act get all the glory in the arena of environmental laws, the MSA (which has been in place since 1976) has worked steadfastly to ensure that Americans have continued access to fish and that marine ecosystems stay healthy and resilient. Here’s three fisheries success stories emanating from the Gulf, reminding us as the MSA turns 40 this year that it’s a keeper.
Every year a crowd of fisherman and fishing community members gather in Astoria, Oregon, to share stories, recite poetry and sing music. FisherPoets, founded by a small group of Pacific Northwest fisherman in 1998, is an opportunity for the commercial small-boat community, friends and locals to gather together away from the docks. No trips to the store, no scrubbing of decks, no mending of nets. Just friends, family and plenty to drink.
A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”
A successful fishing trip depends on more than just the number of fish in the sea. It is dependent upon a multitude of complicating factors including the weather conditions, your ability to catch fish and even lack of engine problems to name a few.
Like a fishing trip, sustainable management of our fisheries requires more than just counting the number of fish in the sea. A sustainable catch level requires an understanding of the environment they live in. Fish need suitable habitat to live, other fish to eat, and will eventually become prey for bigger fish, including humans. Furthermore, fish live in a dynamic, changing ocean. When fisheries managers consider these ‘complicating’ factors in the setting of sustainable catch levels, the process is called ecosystem-based fisheries management.
Another crucial U.S. fish stock is rebuilt, reinforcing the importance of a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act
Earlier this week federal managers of West Coast U.S. fish stocks found that canary rockfish is rebuilt. This is great news for fishermen, seafood consumers, and conservationists, as it means a healthy population that puts more fresh seafood on American plates and supports a stronger ocean ecosystem. Canary rockfish is important in its own right as a species, but this finding allows for increased fishing of other fish populations that swim alongside it – canary is common as bycatch, or non-targeted species that also get caught in fishing gear, and increased catch levels will enable greater fishing opportunities of other species.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal group that co-manages our nation’s fisheries off of Washington, Oregon, and California approved the analysis done by NOAA Fisheries today, starting what will most likely be a revision of catch limits, and an official update to the “Status of Stocks,” NOAA Fisheries’ official score-keeping tabulation of stocks nationally.
Since 2007, the percentage of stocks that are facing overfishing, or that are already overfished, has decreased—even though fishing is increasing. This points to positive rebuilding progress for our nation’s fisheries. It is clear that sound science and managing the long term future of our fisheries is working for America’s fish stocks as well as for the country’s economy.