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Success Story: Rebuilding America's Fisheries with One Single Act

Efforts to protect and rebuild America’s ocean fish populations are working, thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (PDF), a law passed on April 13, 1976, to govern the conservation and management of ocean fish.

The Facts

Thumbnail Fish Stocks

Rebounding fish populations create jobs, support coastal economies, repair damaged marine ecosystems, provide increased recreational fishing opportunities and bring back fresh, local seafood. The benefits of ending overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish populations are far-reaching, and the cost of further delay (PDF) would be significant.

"Rebuilding our ocean fisheries makes good environmental and economic sense."

-Lee Crockett, director of Federal Fisheries Policy, Pew Environment Group.

Rebuilding fish populations would at least triple the net economic value of many U.S. fisheries; estimates include:

-$31 billion in annual sales and support for 500,000 new U.S. jobs (PDF).
-Up to $500 million in New England by 2026 (PDF).
-$570 million annually in the mid-Atlantic.

To ensure these benefits, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is based on two principles:

  1. Prevent the taking of more fish in a year than nature can replace (in other words, end overfishing).
  2. Rebuild depleted fish populations.

In fisheries where managers have effectively implemented these conservation mandates, depleted ocean fish populations have fully recovered and others have made remarkable progress toward recovery.

The Challenge

We must capitalize on those successes and finish the job of rebuilding valuable U.S. fisheries. Unfortunately, 39 of the most important federally managed commercial and recreational fish populations are experiencing overfishing and another 43 populations remain at unhealthy levels.

As America’s ocean fish populations continue to rebound, Congress should reject any proposals that threaten to delay or weaken conservation deadlines. Congress should also support efforts to help fishermen weather short-term economic hardships. Doing so will enable the nation to enjoy the benefits of healthy, sustainable fish populations while preserving them for future generations.

Our Goal

The goal of Pew’s Federal Fiseries Reform Policy Project is to end overfishing and rebuild depleted U.S. ocean fish populations. We can accomplish this by defending the Magnuson-Stevens Act against attempts to weaken it. Since its passage in 1976, the Act has been amended several times, most recently in 2006.

We also seek to ensure that fisheries managers implement science-based annual catch limits and accountability measures as required by the law.

The Results

Faithful implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act has led to remarkable examples of rebuilt fish populations, among them:

ffpr-sea-scallop-article-350-mfk.jpgNew England Sea Scallops
During the 1990s, efforts to rebuild depleted New England groundfish populations, such as cod, haddock and flounder, brought an unexpected benefit. Critical bottom fishing areas were closed, which enabled depleted Atlantic sea scallop populations to recover and fully rebuild by 2001. Today the U.S. Atlantic sea scallop fishery is not only one of America’s most valuable, but also the most valuable wild scallop fishery in the world.

ffpr-bluefish-article-350-mfk.jpgMid-Atlantic Bluefish 
Officials determined that the population of mid-Atlantic bluefish was at an unhealthy level in the late 1990s. To recover this valuable fishery, federal managers implemented a nine-year rebuilding plan, which reached its goal one year ahead of schedule, leading officials to declare bluefish fully rebuilt in 2009.


ffpr-pacific-lingcod-article-350-mfk.jpgPacific Lingcod 
When fisheries managers found lingcod to be depleted in the Pacific Ocean, they applied science-based measures to implement a 10-year rebuilding plan. The Pacific lingcod (PDF) population was rebuilt several years ahead of schedule.


ffpr-summer-flounder-article-350-mfk.jpgMid-Atlantic Summer Flounder 
Several years of catch reductions have allowed mid-Atlantic summer flounder (commonly known as fluke) to rebound from decades of overfishing. In 2010, the population was already 89 percent rebuilt and scientists are optimistic that the stock will be fully rebuilt before the 2013 deadline.

Resource File: Pew Statement on Magnuson-Stevens Hearing March 17, 2011

Resource File: Meet the Experts: Lee Crockett, Director, Federal Fisheries Policy

Resource File: Protect Our Investment - Don't Weaken the Magnuson-Stevens Act

Resource File: America's Fishing Law on the Line

Resource File: Editorial: A Good Law That's Working - The New York Times


Related News and Resources

  • National Geographic: A Better Way to Protect Our Ocean Ecosystems

    • Opinion
    • Apr 02, 2014
    The application of new science, along with critical reforms of key laws and regulations, is leading to more effective policies to manage America’s ocean fisheries.


  • Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

    • Fact Sheet
    • Mar 20, 2014
    Ensuring the long-term health of important marine species will depend upon our ability to understand and account for the interactions among those species, their environment, and the people who rely upon them for food, commerce, and sport.


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