The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the nation's framework for managing federal ocean fisheries, was amended in 2006 to reverse decades of costly fishery declines. Back in 1996, Congress required that fishery managers set science-based catch limits to end overfishing by 2011 and rebuild depleted fish populations as soon as biologically possible. These conservation mandates were enacted to ensure the long-term economic benefits from sustainable fisheries and to safeguard the health of ocean ecosystems.
U.S. ocean fish populations are a public trust which must be managed for the benefit of all Americans. From an economic point of view, fisheries are a multi-billion dollar resource and a valuable food source for millions of Americans. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), recreational and commercial fishing provided $185 billion in sales to the U.S. economy and supported two million jobs in 2006. From an ecological standpoint, however, fish play an essential role in intricate food webs as predators and prey and help preserve the diversity of habitats already threatened by pollution and climate change.
Unfortunately, 40 federally managed fish populations are currently experiencing overfishing in the U.S. and 46 are depleted to very unhealthy levels. While some fishing interests object to efforts to address these problems because of short-term economic costs, the economic benefits of ending overfishing and rebuilding all U.S. fish populations to healthy levels are substantial, and the cost of further delay would be significant.
As the MSA's deadlines for establishing annual catch limits and rebuilding depleted fish populations approach, managers must make difficult decisions to achieve conservation objectives. Congress must reject legislative efforts to weaken the law and support effective implementation. Doing so will allow the nation to enjoy the benefits of healthy, sustainable fish populations today while preserving them for future generations.
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