We have a lot to be proud of in the United States when it comes to fisheries management. This week the New York Times highlighted the comeback of U.S. fisheries with an inspiring story of recovery. And today, NOAA Fisheries released its annual Status of Stocks report, confirming that the management reforms implemented over the last decade are continuing to deliver remarkable results.
For fish geeks, the annual Status of Stocks report is our “State of the Union." It’s an opportunity to take a big-picture look at where things stand, as well as to consider at a more granular level specific regions and fisheries where further reforms may be needed.
At a big-picture level, today’s report is another clear indication that “the state of our fisheries is strong." Indeed, it reveals that in 2015 the Fish Stock Sustainability Index (FSSI) – the composite index that tracks the health of key commercial and recreational stocks that account for 85% of total catch – hit an all-time high. The relentless upward march of the index since 2000 is stunning, and reflects the success of fishermen, managers and conservationists working region by region, fishery by fishery, to end unsustainable open-access management and implement reforms that incentivize conservation. Read More
For Republicans, this week's midterm elections are cause for almost unreserved celebration. GOP candidates came close to sweeping the table in competitive House and Senate races around the country. Among the winners were Republican incumbents who have been constructive partners on fisheries issues and who were strongly supported by EDF Action, our sister organization: leaders like Senator Susan Collins in Maine and Congressman Chris Gibson in New York.
One House race, however, ran starkly against the trend. Two-term Republican incumbent Steve Southerland went down to a stunning defeat in the Florida panhandle's second congressional district. While many factors shaped the outcome—not least of which was a series of missteps on the campaign trail by an incumbent facing a smart and savvy challenger—make no mistake: Steve Southerland's outspoken anti-oceans agenda was on the ballot in Florida 2, and his defeat is a strong repudiation of the incumbent’s approach. It is yet another sign that ‘politics as usual’ in fisheries management is changing as fishermen and environmentalists work together to build healthier and more productive fisheries. Read More
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week released two reports pointing to continued improvements in US fish stocks. Taken together, they send a clear message: that fisheries nationally are turning the corner as sustainable and more innovative management approaches take hold. Congress should take note.
The first report, the so-called Status of Stocks report to Congress revealed that seven stocks were removed from the overfishing list last year and four from the overfished list. Two more stocks were declared “rebuilt,” bringing the total number of rebuilt stocks to 34 since 2000. Twenty-eight species are still on the report’s overfishing list, reminding us that there is still work to be done. But after decades of mismanagement that depleted fisheries and hurt coastal communities, the positive momentum of recent years is unmistakable.
The second report released concurrently by the agency, Fisheries Economics of the US 2012, underscored the critical role that healthy fisheries play in our nation’s economy. According to the report, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $199 billion in sales in 2012, a gain of 7% over the previous year. It also found that the economic impact of fishing jobs increased 3% from 2011 to 2012. Such year-on-year growth is to be welcomed. Read More
President George W. Bush signs the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, joined by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers.
Photo Credit: AP, from talkingfish.org
Fisheries management can be a contentious business. So it’s all the more striking that the business of legislating on federal fisheries has historically been a relatively cordial affair. The gains of the last two decades have been possible because of strong cooperation across the aisle. In 1996 the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) prioritized conservation in federal fisheries management for the first time. Alaska’s Republican Congressman Don Young jokes that the Magnuson-Stevens Act could have been called the Young-Studds Act because of his close collaboration on the SFA with Gerry Studds, then a Democrat from Massachusetts. It passed both chambers by overwhelming margins and was signed into law by President Clinton. Ten years later, the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act strengthened conservation mandates in response to continued overfishing and the failure to rebuild overfished species. It was championed in the Senate by Republican Ted Stevens in close cooperation with his Democratic counterpart Daniel Inouye. It cleared the Senate by unanimous consent, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
With Congress once again considering reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), there’s a welcome bipartisan consensus that the law is working. Senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are talking about building on our recent successes and exploring minor tweaks to the law rather than pursuing any kind of far-reaching rewrite. Despite serious ongoing challenges in specific fisheries, the legal framework created by Congress is clearly succeeding. Science-based annual catch limits are ending overfishing; and statutory rebuilding timelines have driven the recovery of more than 30 previously depleted stocks. This is great news for the health of the ocean. It’s even better news for seafood lovers, saltwater anglers, and coastal small businesses—the most important long-term beneficiaries of fishery management success. Read More
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Matt Smelser, email@example.com, (202) 572-3272
EDF takes another step today in our decades-long pursuit of vibrant, productive fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico when we file an amicus brief in an ongoing lawsuit over the red snapper fishery. The issue at hand is whether NOAA violated federal law in its management of the recreational sector, allowing significant overharvesting and in so doing potentially jeopardizing one of the nation’s biggest success stories in fisheries recovery. It’s always unfortunate when fisheries challenges end up in the courtroom. In this instance, we hope that there’ll be a simultaneous uptake of tangible solutions that can improve recreational fishing opportunity while ensuring continued growth and recovery of the red snapper population. The good news is that Gulf fishermen, just as they have in the past, are coming forward with creative management ideas that we need for long-term success. We should build on that to forge greater cooperation and ensure everyone can share in the benefits of a thriving red snapper fishery.
In many ways the story of Gulf red snapper in recent years is one of remarkable accomplishment. Bold leadership from fishermen—and decisive action by the Gulf Fishery Management Council—put the depleted red snapper fishery on the path to recovery. Failed commercial fishery management was fixed with a catch share program that imposed individual accountability, reduced waste, and helped end chronic overfishing. This new system has yielded remarkable dividends, allowing the safe catch for both the recreational and commercial sectors to more than double since 2008. This increase has helped reinvigorate coastal seafood businesses and brought more fresh local seafood to dinner tables across the Gulf and beyond. EDF is proud to have contributed to this success.
But there’s still a fundamental problem: profound failure in recreational management is denying anglers the benefits they should be enjoying, while threatening to turn back the clock on sustainability. Although the recreational allocation has remained constant at 49 percent of the fishery, the growing Gulf red snapper “pie” is not leading to enhanced recreational fishing opportunities. On the contrary, both individual anglers and charter boat captains face growing frustration. Catch is still controlled by season and bag limits (in addition to size limits), which have shrunk dramatically. The 2013 recreational season was just 42 days.
Note: 2013 recreational landings are projected