Along the road to a better fisheries management regime, we learned the hard way that the ocean can be overfished. In the past two decades, we’ve made great progress and have brought back many species to abundance through tried-and-true fisheries management practices.
I’m not talking about geographic closures – such as MPAs – which can result in overfishing throughout remaining open areas because of displacement of an honest fishing effort. I’m talking about management we know works. To wit, the return to abundance of barracuda, halibut, white seabass, black seabass, sardines — the list is lengthy and gratifying. While we are enjoying good success, especially along the West Coast, much remains to be done nationwide. We are about to ramp up to a higher level of fisheries management.
The NOAA’s Fisheries Service last week outlined a plan to establish annual catch limits designed to help restore federally managed marine fish stocks.
Annual catch limits are the amount of each type of fish allowed to be caught in a year and are required by the 2007 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Additionally, the act calls for measures to ensure these limits are followed and that the limits do not exceed the scientific recommendations made by the regional fishery management councils’ scientific committees.
“Annual catch limits for fish stocks will help the nation meet the call by the president and Congress to end overfishing,” said Jim Balsiger, NOAA acting assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “They will help sustain and recover stocks that provide the nation with valuable seafood and recreational opportunities, as well as benefits to the ocean environment.”
NOAA’s Fisheries Service, the regional fishery management councils and fishing communities have taken significant steps toward ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks in recent years. In 2007, seven fish stocks were removed from the overfishing list. However, 41 fish stocks in U.S. ocean waters continue to be fished at unsustainable levels.
Guidelines published in the Federal Register propose to set up a system of catch limits and targets for each stock to prevent overfishing. The system would account for scientific uncertainty in estimating catch limits for a stock, include accountability measures to prevent annual catch limits from being exceeded and address such a situation quickly if it does occur.
Annual catch limits will be required for all U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries subject to overfishing by 2010 and all other stocks by 2011. The NOAA hopes to issue final guidelines on annual catch limits by the end of 2008.
“Ending overfishing on these stocks and preventing overfishing from occurring on others is critical to maintaining and rebuilding our valuable fisheries resources,” Balsiger said. “The economic, recreational and ecological stakes are high.”
U.S. fisheries contribute more than $35 billion annually to the economy and an estimated $20 billion is spent on recreational fishing activities each year.
Click here to view the proposed guidelines online. Public comments on the proposed revisions will be accepted through Sept. 8.
Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.