Opinion

New Rules Could Save Our Fish

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Located on the far northeastern tip of Newfoundland, a three-hour ferry ride from the nearest town, lies the small fishing village of Great Harbour Deep. First settled by the French in the 1600s, this village was home to generations of fishermen who made their living off the rich bounty of cod that swam off the coast.

But after decades of overfishing, the once seemingly endless supply of cod is gone. And today Great Harbour Deep is a modern ghost town -- its last residents resettled in a government program in 2002.

Here in the United States, anglers from New England to the Gulf of Mexico have also been hit hard by overfishing. Yet the extreme hardships seen in Newfoundland have been forestalled in part by legislation passed by Congress that forces fishery managers to end overfishing and rebuild stocks teetering on the brink of collapse.

However, recent actions by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have raised the question whether U.S. fishery managers will heed the lessons of Great Harbour Deep and meet their legislative mandate while time still permits.

After millennia of seemingly inexhaustible bounty, the ocean's abundance has declined rapidly in the last 50 years. Unlike polluted air or clear-cut forests, the decimation of ocean life went unnoticed for many decades. Since 1972, however, researchers have documented the global extinction of at least 16 known species of marine fish and mollusks, birds and mammals. Today, many marine species continue to drift toward extinction.

In the most recent global assessment, one quarter of fish populations were found to be overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion due to excess fishing. In addition, half of the world's fish populations are on the verge of being overfished. Recent scientific evidence indicates that the populations of fish we rely on are dwindling. A 2003 study found that the last 50 years of industrial fishing have reduced worldwide populations of large predatory fish -- sharks, swordfish and tuna -- by 90 percent. And while environmental protections here at home have helped forestall some of the problems seen elsewhere, U.S. fish stocks are in trouble too.

Read the complete article New Rules Could Save Our Fish in the online publication This is Fly.