Managing Our Nations Fisheries 3 Conference: Take away messages

America’s fishing laws are generally working well to rebuild fish stocks, but there is still work to be done to make sure that our sustainable fisheries are sustainable for fishermen. That was the takeaway message from the recent gathering of the nation’s top fisheries advisors, scientists, members of regional councils and the eNGO community who gathered in Washington DC for the “Managing Our Nations Fisheries 3” conference on May 7-9. The conference convened to discuss how concepts, policies, and practice of fishery sustainability can be advanced to make the system work better for fishermen and fishing communities. It provided a forum for information exchange and an opportunity to hear a wide range of perspectives on the sustainability of fish stocks and ecosystem, and the fishing communities that depend on them.

This conference is an important exercise because it gives the entire fishing community (managers, fishermen, NGOs, industry etc.) the opportunity to think broadly about what’s been happening on the water and apply it to big policy issues that need to be resolved, clarified or improved. Among the issues identified during the conference:

  1. Recreational fishermen would like more representation and consideration in fisheries management decisions
  2. Forage fish protection is a topic being heavily studied by NGO groups
  3. Regional councils are interested in innovating around the 10 year rebuilding timelines mandated in the 2006 Magnuson law.
  4. Fishing stakeholders are interested in pursuing American seafood certification to assure economic stability for domestic fisheries
  5. A central theme reiterated by scientists, fishery stakeholders and NOAA is that accurate and timely data information is essential to making informed management decisions. NOAA and councils need to work more closely with fishermen and innovate solutions for data poor fisheries.

In the United States, catch shares have brought stability and sustainability to fisheries once in turmoil from overfishing. From the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico and all the way to the Bering Sea, fishermen have more stable and flexible businesses and fisheries are recovering from years of overfishing.  If you add our neighbors to the north, Canada, there are 15 catch shares that have shown significant improvements in the stability of jobs, revenues and increased safety.  All over the world fishermen are learning from the work that American fishermen and fishery managers have done to save our nation’s fisheries.

Catch shares have not been a silver bullet in this effort.  In some cases, setting catch limits and aggressive enforcement can be enough to make sure a fishery is sustainable, but in many cases catch limits alone produce derby fishing, where fishermen race to fish in short, unsafe seasons, make very little money for their catch– all while the health of the fishery continues to fail.

The conclusion that Magnuson Stevens is working overall is encouraging because it allows us to focus on refining the operational details instead of overhauling the entire policy. But there is much more work to be done. We look forward to continuing to work alongside fishermen to bring the next generation of fisheries management to scale.

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