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Bipartisan Fisheries Policy: A Worldwide First

commercial shrimper, photo by author

According to the Washington Post, the US has overcome bipartisan politicking long enough to enact amendments to the Magnusen-Stevens Act that puts all fishery stocks into management – not just those threatened by overfishing. In practice, that means each stock has an absolute maximum catch limit for 2012. Perhaps the most resounding success of this policy is that it actually addresses scientific criticism of current management (covered fairly well by MAST) that implementing catch limits for one species just shifts fishing effort to other species – which then must have yet another species-specific policy put in place after overfishing occurs. Implementing fishery management plans for all fishery species at once eliminates the by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling that previous US management conjures.

Of course, putting new fish under management means high demand for information on those fisheries – especially popular game-fish such as wahoo and mahi-mahi. Managers acknowledge that fisheries reporting from the commercial sector is barely enough information to put together a management plan – even though it gives biomass and location for every fish caught commercially. Since many recreational catches aren’t reported at all, the new regulations will require some creative thinking on the part of researchers to make the best estimates of maximum catch possible. It’s a very tall order, with thousands of livelihoods of fishers and their communities on the line.

The new amendments are a good step toward thinking about the ecosystem as a whole – and allocating catches for commercial, recreational, and predatory species. Although these are groups that have historically not played well together in the past, unilateral support from both the Bush and Obama administrations for the new Magnusen-Stevens Act shoudl send a message of need.  Also, specific management details and catch limits will be determined by regional management councils – consisting of fishermen and scientists, not politicos. That helped the law move along thus far and both environmental organizations and fishery groups have high hopes that implementation will happen this year, with measureable results in the form of larger stocks, in 2013.

Apparently, Washington has decided to wear its optimist hat for a while and sit down at the table to solve a big fisheries problem in the time scale of a fish generation.