Our country has been making serious strides in rebuilding some of our most threatened fish species, but key members of Congress are now threatening to undo that progress and take us in the other direction. Luckily, we all have the opportunity to fight back.
Over the last several decades, our understanding of the ocean has deepened tremendously, although sometimes we have had to learn the hard way that the ocean is not inexhaustible. Decades of intense overfishing have led to severe declines in populations of fish, including Atlantic cod, Gulf of Mexico red snapper, and many Pacific coast rockfishes. Thankfully, we have learned a fair amount about how to restore the health of the ocean, and some of that knowledge has been reflected in updates to our nation’s primary fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, originally passed in 1976.
With the help of bipartisan improvements to this act in 1996 and 2006, the United States is turning the corner in preventing overfishing, rebuilding depleted fish populations, and ensuring that management decisions are based on good scientific information. In fact, since 2000, the number of populations subject to overfishing has dropped by nearly two thirds, while 37 once-depleted populations have been replenished. However, we still have a lot of work to do.
Instead of building on the promise of these recent successes, a bill moving in Congress by Representative Don Young (AK) threatens to put us back on the wrong track. H.R. 1335, which the House Natural Resources Committee approved this week, would weaken the law and sacrifice the long-term health of fish populations, the ocean, and the communities that depend upon them.
H.R. 1335 would curb the use of science-based catch limits that prevent overfishing and undermine the effectiveness of rebuilding plans that restore depleted fish populations. It would weaken the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, all of which work to ensure a balanced relationship between human needs and environmental protection. The bill also reduces transparency, restricting the public’s access to taxpayer-funded scientific information about U.S. fisheries, which inevitably creates ignorance and indifference.
Rather than weaken the law, we should modernize it to better solve the challenges of today and tomorrow. Magnuson-Stevens is far from perfect, and accounting for all of the impacts we have on fish and wildlife – from fishing to pollution and warming waters – is not simple. But to better confront the threats to and restore the health of the ocean, we must improve the law with a more integrated management approach that addresses the interconnectivity between habitats, wildlife, and human activity.
Modern science and technology have helped our understanding of fish populations and the ocean evolve by leaps and bounds. Will our management evolve as well? Or will we risk a return to the rampant overfishing of previous decades? Please join us in urging Members of Congress that we’re determined to move forward, and that they must oppose proposals like H.R. 1335 that seek to undermine our recent progress.