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Overfishing 101: Celebrating a Good Year for Marine Conservation

Read the full “Overfishing 101″ series here.

In October, I spent two days fishing off Montauk, N.Y. In fact, I was quite sore by the end of the second day after reeling in dozens of false albacore, bluefish, and striped bass.

The success of the trip was due in part to the skill of my guide, Captain John McMurray. But it also is a testament to the health of the three stocks we were targeting. More fish mean better opportunities for anglers, increased economic benefits to fishermen and coastal communities, and healthier marine ecosystems. Everyone wants more fish in our oceans—the challenge today is finding the right way to achieve that goal.

A Year to Remember

This was a historic year for United States ocean management. Thirty-five years after the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) was enacted, we have finally established a system that, if implemented properly, will keep countless marine species healthy and ensure fishermen stay on the water.

By early 2012, science-based annual catch limits should be in place for all of our federally managed ocean fisheries. The regional management councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) deserve a lot of credit for their hard work and their pragmatic and innovative approaches to achieve this important goal. Based on my 25 years of experience with these issues (including a four-year stint at the Fisheries Service), I know this was an extremely heavy lift, and we at Pew congratulate NMFS Director Eric Schwaab and the regional councils on this remarkable accomplishment.

Although we are making significant progress toward restoring depleted fish populations, the job of ending overfishing is far from completeWe also cannot ignore the fact that some fishermen have been hit hard by the short-term quota reductions that are needed to reverse decades of mismanagement.

Watering down the MSA or postponing deadlines to restore our fish to healthy levels won’t benefit anyone in the long run.Instead, we need to focus on solutions to help fishermen make the transition to sustainability through targeted assistance. We also must improve the quality and timeliness of science that managers use to set catch limits and make other important decisions.

This year, the Pew Environment Group worked hard with fishermen and environmental organizations to call on Congress to make funding for fisheries data collection and analysis a budget priority. We are also supporting congressional efforts to provide a long-term, stable funding source for critical research and management programs without increasing federal spending. These resources would address some of our most pressing needs, including support for stock assessments, cooperative research, socioeconomic analysis, and development of environmentally friendly gear.

A Resolution and New Beginning

Although much of Washington has been tied up with political infighting in 2011, we also saw some remarkable progress toward wiser management of our valuable and scarce marine resources. I am confident that we are on track to realize the economic and environmental promises of the MSA—namely, that we can manage our oceans in such a way that ensures stocks are healthy, commercial fishermen are making money, and anglers like me have many opportunities on the water.

But we also must remember that plenty of hard work still lies ahead for 2012. We’ll be kicking off a new blog series, “The Bottom Line,” in January as part of that effort.

Building on the groundwork covered over the past several months in the “Overfishing 101” articles, this new series will continue the Pew Environment Group’s efforts to engage, educate, and encourage as many people as possible to join the ongoing debate about how to best manage limited marine resources. We’ll start with a look at some New Year’s resolutions that our leaders should make and keep to ensure the future of fish and fishing in our oceans.


  1. şaban bostan
    January 16, 2012, 2:00 pm

    TURKEY ÝSTANBUL POYRAZKÖY ALBACORE AND SWORDFISH SOCIETY. (As members of Water prodcts,Swordfýsh and Albacore Fishing societ) society we are fishermen working in Turkey and traditionally fishing swordfish and albacore by driftnets. As per the Lav of Harmonization Code of the European Union, use of these nets was prohibited with effect from july 1,2011 pursuant to article 14. paragraph 6 of the communigue no.2/1 regulating commercial fishing of water product. as a result of this prohibition , the annual damage incurred by 60 members of our society is abaut EU 100 000- EU 200 000 for non-use of nets and technical gears and abaut EU 200 000 AND 300 000 for not fishing swordfish and albacore per boat. SocietyAPPLÝED TO THE Turkish Ministry ofAgriculture and Rual Affairs for compensation of our damages .However ,the response letter of the MÝNÝSTRY READS :Our Ministry has no procedure to meet such claims. Because of the urgency of the matter , we would be very grateful if you send your response as soon as possible ,we thank you in advance and extend our respects. PRESIDENT OF SOCIETY ÞABAN BOSTAN

  2. daniel bubb
    gloucester ma
    January 3, 2012, 9:29 pm

    well nice story. I was glad to see that you started out by saying that a properly implemented management system helps the fish stocks but hurt the fishermen,What we have in the NORTHEAST with catch shares is a disaster,Not done correctly and is hurting many small boats and families.

  3. doug maxfield
    Ipswich ma
    January 2, 2012, 7:16 am

    Boy Lee says all the right things…and now has found the perfect venue to peddle his spin to the unsuspecting masses. And why would anyone question him and his goal of commercial sustainability in our marine environment?
    Fact of the matter is his science based annual catch limits will prove disastrous within three years in the northeast. This system has invited the offshore fleet back inshore where, with no more spawning closures and no daily catch limits, they will happily use their yearly allocations of fish to wipe out entire year classes of adult breeders.
    For the record, I am not pontificating from behind my desk. I am watching it happen. Knowing full well when the ‘new’ fisheries disaster hits the press that fishermen will be the only ones to blame.
    We’ll see how many “anglers like me (Lee) have many opportunities on the water” when the science based catch share system is swept under the rug. As a matter of fact, it already looks like the ‘anglers’ will take their first hit just two years in with an 80% cut in their cod limit. A species that just three years ago was well on its way to rebuilt numbers but is mysteriously now “in so much trouble we will not be able to reach our biomass goals even is ALL fishing is stopped”.