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Protecting Fish and Seafood – Do You Support Revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Act?

by Countable | 11.2.18

  • Congress is currently working to alter how the U.S. protects fisheries.
  • One bill recently passed the House, and the Senate is currently considering a counterpart bill.
  • Detractors argue that the changes the House passed would endanger fish stocks and lead to a spike in seafood prices, while supporters say the revisions would provide an economic benefit to fishermen and coastal communities.

Why it matters

Almost 90 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted. Fish accounts for 17 percent of all animal protein consumed in the world.

Background

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters, and is generally recognized as one of the most effective fishery laws in the world.

The MSA, first passed in 1976, requires U.S. fishery managers to take three major steps:

  • Manage fisheries to produce the largest possible sustainable catch;
  • Set and enforce science-based quotas that prevent overfishing – i.e. catching fish at a faster rate than that at which they reproduce;
  • Rebuild overfished populations as quickly as possible.

According to our partners at USAFacts, a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative aimed at making government data accessible and understandable, fishing and forestry’s contribution to U.S. gross domestic product has been growing, even when accounting for inflation. From the MSA’s passage in 1976 to 2015 – the most recent year for which data are available – fishing and forestry’s contribution to GDP has grown by 30 percent.

U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $208 billion in sales and supported 1.6 million jobs in 2015, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Over the years, the MSA has driven a number of specific successes, including the revival of the Atlantic sea scallop fishery – now one of the country’s most valuable fisheries – a 280 percent increase in gag grouper biomass in the Gulf of Mexico from 2007 to 2015, and the recovery of numerous other economically valuable fish species.

Since 2001, the number of overfished stocks in U.S. waters has dropped from 81 to only 35 today.

The current House reauthorization bill would establish more flexibility in fisheries management, though detractors are concerned that the loosened standards would undermine fish stocks. Check out Countable’s bill summary to see more on how this latest legislation would change the way the MSA works.

Supporters

Supporters say the House legislation tailors federal fishery management actions in order to give fishery management councils the proper tools and flexibility needed to effectively manage their fisheries, and would support a more robust domestic seafood industry and greater job creation in regions across the country. They include:

Detractors

More than 1,000 organizations, scientists, fishermen, business leaders, and others signed letters publicly opposing the House bill and urging House members to reject it. They fear the bill would weaken science-based conservation of U.S. fish populations, decrease accountability, and increase the risk of overfishing by removing annual catch limits for many species.

Opponents of the bill include not only conservation and scientific groups, but also restaurant and seafood companies, chefs, dive shops, and recreational fishing groups.

What do you think?

Do you support the House’s revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Act? Do you prefer a different approach? Tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Arrlxx

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