Opinion

Standing Up for Fisheries, Fishing Communities

  • February 03, 2008
  • By Gerald Leape

About

Growing up near the ocean in Massachusetts, I not only stored up many fond memories of fishing, swimming and sailing with friends and family, but also gained a deep appreciation for the close links between coastal communities and the health of the marine ecosystem. That's why I feel it's so important not to let the erroneous assertions in Jim Hutchinson Jr.'s column from Dec. 16, "Falling for fisheries collapse, hook, line, sinker," go unchallenged.
 
I have spent more than two decades working extensively with stakeholders from the private, nonprofit and public sectors to find common ground and develop sound, sustainable and science-based policies for managing our nation's fisheries. And while the commercial fishing industry and marine conservation community may disagree from time to time on the best methods to mange our fisheries, to assert that conservation groups such as the National Environmental Trust or the Pew Environment Group are actively working to put fisherman out of business is not only unfair, it's just plain wrong.
 
To the contrary, we seek to save our nation's fisheries — bringing to bear the best available science and ensuring that the public has a voice in the development of public policies that manage a resource that belongs to all Americans.
 
Headlines have been filled recently with increasingly disturbing stories about the state of our oceans. Indeed, a 2003 study in the journal Science found that in just 50 years, 90 percent of the ocean's large predators have vanished, due at least in part to irresponsible fishing practices.
 
While individual scientists may disagree on the health of specific fisheries, few would dispute the overall conclusion that our oceans are in trouble and that steps need to be taken to address the problems facing our fisheries before they grow worse, to the detriment of both fish and fishermen.
 
Last year, a remarkable coalition of leading voices from the conservation, fishing and marine science communities came together to reauthorize our nation's primary fisheries management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
 
Passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Bush, the new Magnuson-Stevens Act represents the broadest overhaul of the rules that govern the U.S. fishing industry in a decade. It codifies strong provisions instructing fishery managers to adhere strictly to scientific advice so as not to deplete our oceans. And its passage never would have been possible without support from key stakeholders in both the conservation and fishing communities.
 
Our fish stocks don't belong to any one individual or group. They belong to everyone. And their fate is of concern to more than just commercial or recreational fishing interests.
 
The public has a right to be actively engaged in the debate over how to best manage our nation's natural resources. One of the principal responsibilities of the conservation community is to ensure that the public is both educated and able to participate in decisions being made by our elected officials, from the Statehouse to the White House, that impact our marine environment.
 
There's a classic New England saying — the one thing harder than looking for a dewdrop in the dew is fishing for a clam in a bowl of clam chowder. After decades of failed fishery management fishing policies, though, finding a cod off of Cape Cod has begun to rival that gastronomic challenge.
 
If we put aside the rhetoric and name-calling and work together, stakeholders in the private and nonprofit sectors can reverse this trend and build strong, sustainable, flexible and fair policies for managing our nation's fisheries.
 
Further, by identifying potential solutions to problems caused by pollution and overfishing, with responsible conservation we can overcome challenges facing our fisheries. And that's a way forward that I'd fall for any day of the week, hook, line and sinker.