Congress is weighing two proposals that would exempt fish species from science-based annual catch limits and delay rebuilding overfished populations. The measures, cutting into the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, must be opposed.
For many of us from the Pacific Northwest, there are few pleasures as great as wild salmon grilled to perfection. Alaska is one of the places we have to thank for this iconic regional treat — it’s home to some of the last robust wild fisheries in the world. The state’s rigorous fisheries management means we’re able to enjoy its delectable wild seafood without fearing that our appetites are taking too great an environmental toll.
As fish stocks have collapsed around the globe due to poor management, overfishing, dams, habitat loss and a range of other threats, Alaska stands out as a model of sustainability both internationally and here at home. Like Alaska, all U.S. fisheries should be rigorously managed by using science-based stock assessments to set catch limits, and strictly enforcing regulations.
That’s why, as a commercial fisherman who has made my livelihood in Alaska’s waters for 24 years, I strongly support the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), named for the efforts and in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson of Washington state. I oppose efforts currently underway in Congress to undermine this important law. H.R. 200, introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and H.R. 2023, introduced by Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, would undo years of progress in U.S. fisheries management by exempting fish species from science-based annual catch limits and delaying the rebuilding of overfished populations.
The MSA recently celebrated its 40th anniversary as the nation’s pre-eminent ocean fisheries law. It has received bipartisan support and has been vital to reducing overfishing and restoring many once-vulnerable fish populations, resulting in more fishing jobs and other economic benefits.
Due to MSA’s science-based policies, 39 depleted fish populations have been restored to healthy levels since 2000, including lingcod and canary rockfish here on the Pacific Coast. MSA’s strong protections have enabled North Pacific fishermen to sustainably harvest 5 billion to 6 billion pounds of seafood annually, supporting more than 9,000 vessels and 100-plus processing plants in coastal communities and generating $12.8 billion in economic output.
New threats to fish populations are emerging daily, however. Changing ocean temperatures, acidification, dams and other habitat destruction all pose new perils to our local environment. Warming waters are causing fish to move in search of cooler waters, disrupting predator-prey relationships, and adding to the already challenging problem of fish stock depletion. This year, concerns were high enough that the summer chinook fishery in southeast Alaska was cut short as a precautionary measure to assure enough chinook salmon were able to return to their spawning streams. And further south, scientists documented the lowest number of juvenile salmon returning to the Columbia River in 20 years of research.
But it’s not too late to rebuild and maintain our fisheries for future generations. Ecosystem-based fisheries management is a way that fisheries managers on the West Coast are addressing these problems. This approach broadens the focus of fishery management so that we account for the interconnections of fish, other wildlife, and habitats, and will help us meet the challenges of changing oceans.
Through a proactive and big-picture approach to fisheries management, our congressional leaders can make a real difference to ensure managers have the authority and tools to better tackle the complex threats facing oceans today.
We need to oppose H.R. 200 and H.R. 2023. These proposed laws threaten to undo the years of progress made by the MSA. Let’s ask our congressional representatives to make sure our fisheries management program remains one of the most advanced in the world because of its strong, clear, accountability measures. The long-term health of our ocean ecosystems, coastal economies and communities depend on it.