Ocean Conservation and the End of Overfishing

In January 2007, President George W. Bush signed legislation to reauthorize and amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. If fully implemented, the Act will end overfishing and help restore ecosystems in U.S. waters.

Since 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been the primary tool for managing fishing from 3 to 200 miles off our coasts. The Act created eight regional councils to assist in managing ocean fisheries. Often these councils failed to set annual catch limits, and when they did, the levels were set counter to scientific advice, which resulted in overfishing, to the detriment of fish and fishermen alike.

In 1996, after more than 20 years of rapidly declining ocean fish populations, Congress amended the Magnuson-Stevens Act with the Sustainable Fisheries Act and strengthened it by prohibiting ‘overfishing,' the practice of killing fish faster than nature can replace them. The Sustainable Fisheries Act also directed fisheries managers to take steps to restore depleted fish populations to healthy levels.

Nonetheless, a decade later overfishing continued to imperil fish populations, and so, in 2006, Congress amended the Magnuson-Stevens Act to close many existing loopholes. The new Act requires, by 2011, the establishment of annual catch limits and accountability measures that prevent overfishing in all U.S. fisheries. The Act also directs the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to better integrate fishery management planning with national environmental review procedures.

The future of America's fisheries and fishermen depends largely on the implementation of the revised Act. During 2008, NMFS will develop new regulations on annual catch limits that end overfishing and strengthen environmental review of fishery management actions. The public has a key opportunity to help shape the rules that will govern the management of our ocean fisheries for years to come.

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