By Monica Goldberg
October is National Seafood Month, and this year the future of America’s fisheries is under threat. Short-sighted efforts to undercut the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), which has brought about a remarkable recovery in fish populations across the country, could take us back to the days of widespread overfishing. EDF Action has formed close alliances with other environmental groups, fishermen, chefs, and others who depend on sustainable fisheries to protect one of our most successful environmental laws.
Not long ago fish populations coast to coast were on the brink of collapse and fishermen were struggling to survive. But thanks to bi-partisan improvements to the MSA, we have recovered 44 once-depleted fish species and dramatically reduced overfishing in our waters.
Two bills making their way through Congress, H.R. 200 and S. 1520, would weaken the aspects of the law that make our fisheries some of the best managed in the world. These bills would undermine science-based management, arbitrarily ban successful conservation tools, and take away the ability of local fishery management councils to determine what works best for them. Fishermen, chefs, scientists and others have joined EDF Action in opposing these bills because they have seen the turnaround firsthand.
H.R. 200, which would dramatically reduce the applicability of science-based quotas that have been key to reducing overfishing, among other things, squeaked through the House of Representatives this summer, drawing opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. And while S. 1520 has it made it out of committee, many Senators remains concerned about the bill.
While S. 1520 is largely motivated by the need to improve recreational management, it does not provide meaningful solutions to the challenges facing our nation’s anglers. Instead, it eliminates potential solutions and restricts positive innovations from both the recreational and commercial sectors.
Both bills would mandate that fishery management councils review the allocation of fish between sectors every few years. While this might seem benign, history shows that such a mandate would likely result wasting limited resources in contentious battles over who gets how much of each kind of fish.
For example, the debate on the allocation of just one fish, Gulf of Mexico red snapper, has resulted in years of deliberation and lawsuits without any real change. Regional fishery management councils already have the authority to initiate reallocation reviews as often as they want, and they should be free to do so without mandates from D.C. Indeed, the Gulf of Mexico Council recently reinitiated yet another reallocation review for Gulf of Mexico red snapper.
These bills would also create unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles for testing innovations that could improve fishing for anglers, like the two-year pilot taking place in the Gulf right now to see if States can manage private recreational red snapper fishing. Rather than make ill-advised changes to successful federal legislation, we should focus on using existing tools at the regional level to address remaining challenges without harming the resource and those who depend on it. Recent research has shown that Floridians in particular do not consider recreational access a high-priority issue in the hotly-contest Florida Senate race, for example.
As this Congress comes to a close and we anticipate the potential for a change of control of the House, it is likely that we will continue to see attempts to push these bills through. We can’t let that happen. Our fisheries have come a long way and now is not the time to turn back.