Federal Law is Recovering Fish Stocks | Brad Sewell's Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC
A decade and a half after a fisheries crisis led the U.S. Congress to enact landmark requirements for the rebuilding of fish stocks, two-thirds of the stocks subjected to the requirements have been rebuilt or are making significant rebuilding progress, according to a new report released today by NRDC.
Under the rebuilding requirements added to the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1996, 64 percent of once-struggling, monitored fish stocks nationwide have fully recovered or are well on their way.
From haddock on New England’s Georges Bank, summer flounder in the Mid-Atlantic to lingcod off the Pacific coast, many fish populations are at levels not seen for two decades. And that’s not only great news for the ocean ecosystem, but also for all of us who depend on or look to healthy fisheries for our food, jobs, and recreation.
Many fishermen in New England remember it well. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of the region’s most iconic fish stocks—including cod, haddock, and flounder—had crashed. With catch levels set too high, and fishing fleets more efficient with every passing year, 20 out of the region’s 36 managed fish stocks eventually became overfished. For fishermen and coastal communities, this was a disaster, with economic losses in the hundreds of millions annually.
The fisheries crisis was not limited to New England. In the Mid-Atlantic, half of the region’s 12 managed stocks were overfished by 1997 (spiny dogfish was added to the list the following year). The popular sport fish summer flounder dipped to just 15% of target levels in the early 1990s. Another recreational target, scup (also known as porgy), was at 4% in 1995. On the West Coast, a half-dozen species of slow-growing, late-maturing rockfish were similarly in trouble by the late 1990s.
Recognizing the enormous economic and ecologic risk at hand, Congress stepped in, passing the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) in 1996 amending the nation’s federal fisheries law (the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act or MSA for short) to add new requirements that overfished ocean fish stocks be rebuilt as quickly as possible.