Responsible fisheries management took a hit today as the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill that threatens to undo the significant progress the United States has made in reversing the effects of decades of overfishing and making the U.S. a world leader in fisheries management. H.R. 4742, sponsored by committee chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), our nation’s primary fisheries management law. Unfortunately, H.R. 4742 not only does little to advance the protection of our nation’s fisheries and the communities that depend on them; it guts the key conservation provisions of the MSA that have led to its success. The legislation must now be considered by the full House of Representatives.
Under the MSA’s conservation measures, there has been tremendous success in rebuilding depleted fish stocks and halting overfishing. The 1996 reauthorization required firm deadlines for rebuilding depleted stocks, with broad exceptions to respect the biology of individual fish stocks. These timelines have led to many fish stocks recovering from collapse, ultimately benefiting fishermen, fishing communities, and marine ecosystems. More than half of the stocks subject to the rebuilding requirements have been rebuilt or are well on their way to recovery. The 2006 reauthorization required that all commercial fisheries implement annual catch limits and accountability measures to ensure that fishing does not exceed scientifically-set limits in order to prevent overfishing. After years of work, those safeguards are in place and are working.
Unfortunately, H.R. 4742 moves us back and undoes the success of these ongoing efforts. The bill would unnecessarily expand the exemptions for rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits already built into the law. In fact, H.R. 4742 allows so many exceptions that it provides little to no practical value for protecting our fisheries. These changes would undermine the effort to restore certain fish populations to healthy levels just as we are starting to see success.
The legislation also fails to address the serious problem of bycatch, which is damaging to our oceans and is wasteful for fishermen. As stated in Oceana’s recent report, “Wasted Catch,” bycatch can be as high as 66 percent in certain fisheries and impacts fish caught for commercial sale and recreational purposes and protected species like sea turtles and sharks. With as much as two billion pounds of fish discarded as bycatch every year, we need to take meaningful steps to reduce this waste and improve the efficiency of our fisheries. Any MSA reauthorization bill should include those measures, yet H.R. 4742 wholly ignores the problem.
Finally, the bill does nothing to confront the realities of our changing oceans, including rising temperatures, acidification, coastal vulnerability, and more – all of which have very real effects on ocean ecosystems. Reauthorizing the MSA is an opportunity to begin the dialogue about how to address these challenges and prepare for the future. Science-based fishing regulations benefit fishermen, coastal communities, and our oceans alike. H.R. 4742 ignores the science, the successes of our past, and is a misguided approach to these critical issues.
The MSA has a proven track record of success. We must continue to let the law work as intended. Fishermen are seeing the benefits of the law’s key conservation provisions, and those provisions must be preserved. At a time when our oceans are facing serious global threats, we cannot afford to roll back the clock on responsible management in our own fisheries. Instead, we need a forward-thinking MSA reauthorization, one that builds on the law’s critical conservation measures to address the challenges that lie ahead.
The House should defeat H.R. 4742 and work toward a more favorable solution that ensures the sustainability of our fisheries for future generations.