Yesterday, Congressman Don Young of Alaska introduced a bill that would roll back protections for marine fish that are important for seabirds, the marine ecosystem, and fishing communities. This bill, called “Strengthen Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” or H.R. 3697, weakens the science-based provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA)—the nation’s only federal fisheries law. The bill, should it pass, will increase the chances of overfishing, leading to the potential collapse of multiple fisheries across the country. It’s worth noting that this bill contains harmful provisions already rejected by Congress, and they should be rejected yet again.
In recent years, Congress has passed legislation to improve the MSA, increasing protections for fish by mandating annual catch limits, improving accountability measures to end overfishing, minimizing bycatch, and requiring that fishery managers make plans to rebuild overfished populations. This bill would reverse years of progress that has helped the U.S. emerge as a world leader in sustainable fisheries management.
Why does this matter? Over the past 50 years, we’ve lost 70 percent of the world’s seabirds in part due to overfishing. Sustainable fisheries mean that everyone, including birds, can have a share, and managing our fisheries well now increases the likelihood of thriving fisheries in the future.
Instead of focusing on short-term economic gains for the few at the expense of entire coastal communities and birds, Congress should pass legislation that improves the MSA for long-term gains shared by all with a stake in healthy oceans. Fortunately, there’s efforts in Congress to do just that.
First, Rep. Huffman (CA) just announced a listening tour to address today’s challenges in fisheries management. He aims to write an MSA reauthorization based off of those listening sessions, and will work to improve the MSA.
Second, there is a bill in Congress that improves the management of fish that seabirds need: the Forage Fish Conservation Act (H.R. 2236).
Seabirds and other marine organisms feed on small, schooling fish called “forage fish.” Currently, the MSA is not set up in a way to manage forage fish at all, and many forage fish species remain unmanaged. The Forage Fish Conservation Act (H.R. 2236) sets up a management structure for forage fish through the MSA to protect forage fish from overfishing. Specifically, H.R. 2236:
- Provides a national definition for forage fish, which is not federally defined;
- Limits new fishing of unmanaged forage species until the impact on existing fisheries, fishing communities and the marine ecosystem is assessed;
- Directs fishery managers to account for predator (e.g. seabirds, larger fish, and sea mammals) needs in their existing management plans for forage fish;
- Specifies that Regional Fishery Management Council consider forage fish when establishing research priorities; and
- Requires conservation and management of river herring and shad in the ocean.
Many threats challenge our fisheries, including climate change, habitat degradation, and harmful fishing practices, which mean there’s a lot more work to be done to build on the successes of the MSA. Let’s not go backwards.
Tell your Congressperson to support changing the Magnuson-Stevens Act to ensure birds have enough fish to eat. Take action!