The Magnuson-Stevens Act is in Need of Congressional Attention
May 19, 2014
In a recent article titled, “The Magnuson Act: It’s a Keeper” and published in the media outlet Roll Call, Eric Schwaab and Bill Hogarth’s representation that the current fisheries management regime is a success and built on sound science is blatantly false and amounts to no more than agency based rhetoric rather than reality. At present, there are a total of 7 Economic Disasters that have been declared by the Secretary of Commerce throughout the United States. These economic disasters are not limited to one region of the country, they span from New England, down the East Coast, into the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Pacific Coast.
The problem is that the writers use only a single metric of performance; whether or not a stock is overfished? But there are other metrics such as rampant underfishing and destruction of fishing communities that are measures of the success of a fishery management regime. Losses from underfishing and fishing community destruction in New England alone amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The examples used are also misleading. The Red Snapper example that they cite is now in a situation where recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico will be allowed to fish for only a dozen days a year. Additionally, advances in the New England scallop fishery were the result of university-industry interaction, not the management system.
Often the classification of a stock as “overfished” is due to unreliable science, not the actions of the fishing industry. In New England, the groundfish fleet is not fishing, and boats are tied up in our harbor. Yet, the industry continues to be held responsible and told it is “overfishing.” One of two things is happening here, either the government’s population estimates are wrong, or there are other factors impacting the stocks, or perhaps both. The agency has failed to look into the potential causes in sufficient detail.
Out-dated and stale scientific data, data collection methods, and analysis techniques have much to do with these economic disasters. In most regions of the country, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (“NOAA”) rarely, if ever considers information from collaborative research and scientific studies from outside sources. In New England, there has been a total failure at managing important aspects of the multi-species groundfish fishery. Due to unreliable science and the lack of transparency and collaboration, the groundfish fishery was declared an Economic Disaster in 2012. Such a failure has been admitted by the agency, yet it has not taken effective steps to rectify its failure. In point of fact, court cases are brought throughout the country on a regular basis, challenging NOAA’s “best available scientific information.”
At present, approximately 91% of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported. One can hardly classify this as a well-managed fishery that “provide[s] fresh, local seafood to consumers.”
Current fisheries policies are leading to a consolidation of the industry where large corporations and hedge funds are now buying up fishing permits and companies, moving processing plants overseas, and controlling a majority of the seafood market. The image of a fisherman going out to sea on his or her vessel with 4-5 crew members, whom all get a percentage of the catch, is a thing of the past for many areas of the Nation. No longer can a young, hardworking individual buy a vessel and put in an honest days work to help feed his or her community. Today, to enter the fishing industry an individual must have a significant amount of money available to buy permits, etc. This phenomenon is not unique to one area of the country; it has occurred and is occurring throughout the Nation.
The only partial truth told in the article is that upon the passage of the Act in 1976 the government provided “subsidies and other programs to provide access to and manage what was perceived as a near-limitless supply of fish.” The purpose of the MSA has always been to have a thriving domestic fishing industry that provides our Nation with if not all, majority of its seafood. Conservation is an important component of fisheries management, but socio-economic impacts are equally as important. Congressional intent has been overridden by bureaucratic agenda. Fisheries management has to put people and fishing communities at the forefront, not create socio-economic harm by implementing fishery management plans that ironically do not sustain the fisheries and are in fact destroying the communities.
The Center for Sustainable Fisheries is a science based non-profit organization, based out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, that is devoted to the conservation of our fisheries resources and the economic development of our fishing communities. For more information on the organization please visit www.centerforsustainablefisheries.org.