$15.2 million in the Southeast. $149 million in New England.
What are these numbers, and what do they mean? According to a new report commissioned by the Pew Environment Group, they reveal that in 2009 alone, a staggering $164.2 million was lost by commercial fishermen due to decades of overfishing. In that year, just 25 percent of potential revenue was realized.
The report, The Hidden Cost of Overfishing to Commercial Fishing (PDF), prepared by the non-profit organization Ecotrust, examines the impact of chronic overfishing with a focus on three regions hit hardest by depleted fish populations. Had populations of fish in the Gulf, South Atlantic and New England been healthy, the dollars lost by fishermen could have been income.
Ocean fish are a vital renewable resource, providing food, employment and recreation to people here and abroad. Healthy populations of fish are also essential to vibrant ecosystems and biodiversity. But years of overfishing have depleted more than 20 percent of the commercially and recreationally important ocean fish in the United States—including some species of cod, flounder, snapper and grouper.
Overfishing also hurts people and coastal communities that depend on the sea. When fish populations decline, fisheries managers must take difficult steps to restore species, such as reducing catch levels. However, when healthy fish stocks are caught sustainably, catch and potential sales are maximized over the long-term.
Congress recognized the long-term costs of overfishing in 2006 when it strengthened the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), our nation's primary ocean fishing law, by requiring science-based catch limits to end overfishing and to rebuild depleted fish populations. Now Congress should resist further tinkering with the law and let fish stocks—and fishermen's income—return to healthy levels.