The Bottom Line: Even Fish Need Yearly Checkups

Health care is a controversial topic these days, but one thing we can all agree on is the importance of annual checkups. Every year, millions of Americans visit their doctors as a proactive measure to stay healthy, identify any underlying conditions, and check for common problems—all in an effort to promote long-term health. What makes sense for us is equally important for life in our oceans. Each year, U.S. ocean fish populations undergo a checkup by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a report to Congress, the Status of U.S. Fisheries.

On May 14, 2012, NOAA released its 2011 checkup, and I am pleased to share some good news. Last year, thanks to our system of science-based management, six U.S. ocean fish stocks were fully rebuilt to healthy levels, others continued their recovery, and significant progress was made in ending overfishing.i These conservation gains occurred in nearly every region of the country.

 Our nation’s fish populations are becoming healthier because of the conservation mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act (MSA), which require science-based catch limits that do not allow overfishing. Overall, 27 U.S. ocean fish populations have been rebuilt to healthy levels since 2000.ii

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that these conservation achievements were possible because of the hard work, ingenuity, and often short-term sacrifices of U.S. fishermen, combined with more effective management by the regional fishery management councils and NOAA. On this occasion, it’s important to thank them for all they are doing for us and for future generations.

Healthy ocean fish populations benefit the U.S. economy, providing jobs, income, and seafood for tens of millions of Americans. For example, the mid-Atlantic summer flounder population, declared fully rebuilt in 2011iii, supports thousands of jobs and brings in millions of dollars a year.iv Anglers from New York to Maryland are enjoying the growing abundance of this once-depleted fish.

Any doctor would point out that this year’s report wasn’t a clean bill of health: 36 of America’s most commercially and recreationally important ocean fish populations are still subject to overfishing, and 45 have been depleted to unhealthy levels.

But we are on the right track. Sanctioned overfishing is coming to an end this year, and if U.S. fishery managers continue to follow good scientific advice and adhere to the MSA’s conservation requirements, I expect we will continue to see significant progress. And perhaps my New Year’s resolution—to help America’s ocean fish gain weight—will also be realized.


i. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 2011 Status of U.S. Fisheries: Fourth Quarter Update. December
ii. Testimony of Eric Schwaab on eight bills that would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act before the House Committee on Natural Resources, p. 3. Dec. 1,
iii.  NOAA, Op. cit.
iv. v Gates, J.M. Investing in Our Future: The Economic Case for Rebuilding Mid-Atlantic Fish Populations. Pew Environment Group. 2009.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Lee Crockett joined The Pew Charitable Trusts in June 2007 as director of Federal Fisheries Policy. As Ddirector, U.S. Oceans, he led Pew’s efforts to establish policies to end overfishing and promote ecosystem-based fisheries management in the United States under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the federal law that governs ocean fish management. As director, Crockett oversees all of Pew’s U.S. fisheries campaigns. These include efforts in the Northeast, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Caribbean, and the Pacific. Before joining Pew, Crockett was executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, the largest national coalition dedicated exclusively to promoting the sustainable management of ocean fish. Under his leadership, the campaign helped efforts to reauthorize and strengthen the MSA. Previously, he was a fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, leading agency efforts to protect essential fish habitat. He also served as a staff member of the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, working on a variety of fisheries, environmental and boating safety issues. Crockett holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in biological oceanography from the University of Connecticut. Before college, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He’s also an avid angler who enjoys fishing the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.