sunset view of the coast

Archived Project

U.S. Ocean Conservation

The Challenge

The Pew Charitable Trusts has been working to protect ocean wildlife and ecosystems in the United States since 1993 through the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), which governs the management of ocean fisheries.  We strongly supported the 1996 and 2006 reauthorizations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act which added important conservation requirements. Since 2007, Pew has led federal and regional campaigns to secure science-based catch limits that cover the 537 ocean fish populations managed under the law.

Federal laws and regulations have set us on a path toward curbing overfishing and rebuilding depleted populations in U.S. waters. However, the collateral damage from years of unsustainable fishing practices on habitat and wildlife, coupled with emerging threats related to global climate change, demand new more comprehensive measures to improve the health of our oceans.

The Solution

Scientists, managers, fishermen, and conservationists have recognized for over a decade that for fisheries to be truly sustainable, they must be managed as part of the overall marine environment. This approach, known as ecosystem-based fisheries management, takes into account key considerations such as:

  • Leaving enough forage fish in the water to feed marine wildlife.
  • Protecting valuable habitat from destructive fishing practices.
  • Minimizing the incidental mortality of fish, seabirds, whales, and other species, a problem known as bycatch.
  • Establishing fishery ecosystem plans that have a broader focus than the conventional species-by-species approach to fishery management.

Scientific understanding of our ocean ecosystems has grown dramatically over the last decade, and there are examples around the country of cutting-edge science and tools being used to manage fisheries within an ecosystem context. With the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act underway, we now have an opportunity to advance a 21st-century model of fisheries management in the United States that accounts for the interdependent nature of ocean life. 

Pew is working with partners in the fishing, science, and conservation communities to promote the implementation of this new approach to fisheries management. Building upon our regional and federal work advocating for an end to overfishing, we are promoting specific measures in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, U.S. Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, and Alaska that will establish or refine efforts to restore and protect ecosystem health. 

Our goal is to use these regional examples to advance a national mandate for ecosystem-based fisheries management through reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its national guidelines. This work will build on the successes achieved under the current law to promote the next generation of sustainable fishing. These refinements will contribute to the rebuilding of healthy and resilient ocean ecosystems that are critical to maintaining the sustainable fisheries that so many coastal communities depend on.