On July 11, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, on a close vote of 222-193, that jeopardizes significant gains made in U.S. fishery management in recent decades. If signed into law, H.R. 200 will increase the risk of overfishing in ocean waters, delay the rebuilding of depleted fish populations, and undercut the important role science plays in management decisions. Representatives added several amendments while debating the bill, but none fixed H.R. 200’s weakening of core fish conservation requirements.
The bill reauthorizes, or updates, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which first passed in 1976 and is our country’s primary ocean fishing law. This week’s vote shows that opposition to the House’s approach to reauthorizing the law has increased on both sides of the aisle since the last attempted update three years ago. Further, a wide range of stakeholders around the U.S., including fishermen, scientists, chefs, and more than 1,000 others have spoken out against H.R. 200 since the bill was introduced in January 2017. I sincerely thank those U.S. representatives who voted against H.R. 200 this week.
The last two Magnuson-Stevens reauthorizations, in 1996 and 2006, strengthened the law’s conservation provisions and foundations in science with overwhelming bipartisan support. As I’ve written before, Congress can and should do better than H.R. 200 when it comes to updating such a vital law.
The next reauthorization of the MSA should build on our country’s progress in ending overfishing and rebuilding fish populations. It should address today’s fishery management challenges, including conserving forage fish, minimizing bycatch, and improving protections of fish habitat. In short, any bill Congress passes should reflect America’s commitment to healthy fish populations and coastal communities, from fishermen to business owners to future generations of Americans.
Ted Morton leads The Pew Charitable Trusts’ fisheries work at the federal level.