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

Lee Crockett joined the Pew Environment Group in June 2007 as director of Federal Fisheries Policy.

What influenced your passion for protecting fish and the oceans?

My passion for the ocean began on the deck of the Coast Guard cutter Vigilant in 1975. Just out of high school and on my first cruise, I was awed by the power of the 12-foot seas. My Coast Guard duty then took me to the U.S. West Coast and Alaska where I helped enforce fisheries laws and participated in many search and rescue operations. 

Hooked by the ocean, I enrolled at the University of Connecticut to study marine science. While I enjoyed being a scientist, I often wondered what difference my little research project would make in the grand scheme of things. So, when I had an opportunity to apply for a marine policy fellowship in Washington, D.C., I jumped at it. I enjoyed my year on Capitol Hill as a Sea Grant Fellow so much that I spent the next eight years working for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries.

I got more involved with fish when I left the Hill in 1995 to become a fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service. After that, I served as the executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, the largest national coalition of environmental and fishing groups dedicated to fish conservation. That experience connected me to commercial and recreational fishermen from all over the country and allowed me to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the men and women who make their living through fishing.

What have been some of your greatest challenges?

The biggest challenge I face is getting people to care about what goes on in the ocean. For many people, their exposure to the ocean is from the beach or perhaps the deck of a cruise ship or ferry. Looking out from the shore, the ocean looks vast and mysterious.  It is, but we have become very adept at finding and exploiting the ocean's resources.

"If we don't stop overfishing, there won't be enough fish for me to enjoy catching during my retirement. I'm just not that good a fisherman without lots of fish to chase."

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

When I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s, we thought the ocean's resources were limitless. Unfortunately, we have developed the ability to overexploit those finite resources. The good news is that our oceans, and the fish that inhabit them, are resilient.

My second biggest challenge is getting the public, fishermen and Congress to recognize that fish conservation is critical to the sustainability of commercial and recreational fishing. It's a simple message: Without fish, there is no fishing. Fortunately, we can fish and still have sustainable populations. The trick is to make sure that we don't deplete populations to unsustainable levels by fishing too much.

What is it that you like about the work you do now?

I like being able to make a difference on issues I care about deeply. For example, Pew's efforts to put an end to overfishing are something I care a lot about. If we don't stop overfishing, there won't be enough fish for me to enjoy catching during my retirement. I'm just not that good a fisherman without lots of fish to chase.

An added benefit is that nearly all of my business trips take me to some coastal town or city where I can fish and enjoy local seafood.

April 13 marks the 35th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. How effective has this law been and why do we need to defend against efforts to weaken it?

It depends on how you define “effective.” Congress originally passed The Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 – now called the Magnuson-Stevens Act (PDF) – to phase out foreign fishing in our waters and promote the U.S. fishing industry. The MSA was fabulously successful. In fact, it was too successful. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, we had a capacity to catch fish that far exceeded the reproductive capacity of many fish populations. In 1996 and again in 2006, Congress amended the Magnuson-Stevens Act to make conservation the focus of the law and put an end to overfishing (taking fish faster than they can reproduce).

While there is much work left to be done, we are beginning to see signs of success. Recreationally important fish like bluefish have been rebuilt, and other commercially and recreationally important fish such as summer flounder and Gulf of Mexico red snapper are on the road to recovery. For most other commercially and recreationally important fish that are subject to overfishing, management plan amendments are in place to finally end overfishing. Time will tell how effective these amendments will be at actually ending overfishing, but I'm optimistic that we've finally turned the corner.

Media Contact: Dave Bard

Topics: Oceans, Environment

Project: Federal Ocean Policy