In elementary school, we learned through basic math that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. As we grew up, math became more complicated with different variables and formulas, but we always knew that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. Fisheries math is not all that different.

Each year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use fishery math and science to determine how many fish can be removed from fisheries in a sustainable manner, and the number of fish that can be removed is called the annual catch limit (ACL). If species fall below a level that is sustainable, managers put in a rebuilding plan – a roadmap to rebuild the stock to a healthy level.

Counting fish clearly isn’t nearly as easy as Dr. Seuss made it out to be (one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish), but the simple equation of “science-based annual catch limits + adequate rebuilding timelines = healthy and sustainable fisheries” is generally accepted among members of the fishing community. No matter which way we frame it, science-based catch limits and adequate rebuilding timelines are key components to keep our fisheries healthy and the fishing industry in business.

But this equation is in jeopardy, and so are fish populations.

On Friday, Feb. 28, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary law governing our nation’s fisheries. A draft bill proposed by Chairman Doc Hastings, however, would alter the formula that we know is working for our fisheries.

The Hastings proposal would subtract out some of the science-based provisions that have led to success on the water while adding in several exemptions to promote short-term economic gains. This equation does not equal success for our fisheries, coastal communities or the long-term viability of the fishing industry.

Overall, the reauthorization of the MSA + the Hastings language = The Empty Oceans Act.

Some may think that this equation is a bold statement, but all you have to do is look at the numbers in the draft language to realize that it’s true:

- 5 – The number of years the draft bill would allow overfishing to occur
- 3 – The number of fisheries that are exempted from applying ACLs
- 4 – The number of other environmental laws that are affected by Chairman Hastings’ draft by placing the interests of the fishing industry over those of endangered species, sensitive habitat and the environment
- 5 – Exemptions to the successful rebuilding provisions in the House draft bill that regional fisheries management councils can use to delay rebuilding
- 7 – The number of types of data – collected with taxpayer dollars on a public resource – not available to the public
- 30 – The number of pages of Chairman Hastings’ draft bill it took to roll back almost 20 years of progress, including:
- 32 fish stocks that have been fully rebuilt due to the reauthorization provisions in current law
- 20 fish stocks that are no longer experiencing overfishing since 2007 due to science-based ACLs, a cornerstone of sustainable fisheries
- 0 – The number of ways the draft bill builds upon the successful formula for sustainable fisheries and improves fisheries management

These numbers just don’t add up to successful and sustainable fisheries. These numbers add up to depleted fisheries and long-term economic consequences for fishermen and coastal communities. We don’t need to subtract from the law. We need to add provisions to help us manage fisheries in a dynamic and changing ocean.

All these numbers add up to are empty nets.

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