When it comes to fisheries management, finding consensus feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole. Yet expert working in this industry in Alaska agree: the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is working, and we need to continue to invest in and improve the government’s ability to collect data, conduct research and maintain accountability measures that have yielded such positive results to date.
This is clear from a recent field hearing chaired by Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization More Republicans call on Biden to designate Taliban as terrorist group Overnight Energy: Judge blocks permits for Alaska oil project MORE (R-Alaska) in late August. At this second in a series of hearings on reauthorization of the MSA, Alaska’s representatives of the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC) also made it clear that we must resist growing efforts to undermine the foundational principles of the law that has brought America’s fisheries back from the brink of collapse.
It is no surprise that this message was coming from Alaskan-based stakeholders and managers. For over 40 years, Alaska has demonstrated that science-based annual catch limits, robust stock assessments and fisheries data combined with effective accountability measures are more than the cornerstones of effective fisheries management — they pay off in the real world. The results speak for themselves: North Pacific fishermen sustainably harvest between 5 billion and 6 billion pounds of seafood annually, supporting about 9,800 vessels and about 100 processing plants in coastal communities and generating $14.6 billion in economic output.
Recognizing these successes, Congress amended the MSA in 2006 to bring the “Alaska Model” to the rest of the country, dramatically improving the overall health of our nation’s fisheries. Indeed, of the 41 stocks nationwide listed as subject to overfishing in 2006, just 14 remain in such condition. Today, Americans collectively enjoy the lowest number of overfished stocks in our history, and landings revenue is up 18 percent since 2005.
Rebuilding these stocks required the hard work and short-term sacrifice of fishermen and fishing communities, as well as the dedication of fishery management councils and agency staff. These rebuilt fisheries have led to greater industry stability, opportunities for diversification and new entrants, directly benefiting fishing communities and America as a whole.
Regrettably, some well-funded factions of the sport fishing industry are urging Congress to actually weaken the core science-based management provisions of the MSA, threatening to undermine decades of progress. These groups argue that science-based provisions, such as annual catch limits, should not apply to the recreational fishing sector.
But the facts say otherwise: We are all engaged in the harvest of a finite, but renewable, public resource that requires objective, science-based management if it is to endure. This system only works if proven science-based fisheries management applies to all parties involved. There is no reason why annual catch limits and other science-based management measures that have been successfully employed by the commercial sector cannot work for the recreational sector.
Adding additional “flexibility” to annual catch limits may put more fish in recreational boats, but would badly damage our fisheries in the long run. We know from experience that such shortsighted fisheries management approaches reap disastrous consequences for both recreational and commercial fishermen and the economies of fishing communities.
Rather than lowering the bar to fisheries with the poorest data or weakest accountability measures, Congress would be wise to consider changes that raise the bar for all fisheries. This means strengthening the foundation upon which sustainable fisheries management rests: accountability, transparency and timely and accurate data, including robust stock assessments.
Here in Alaska, as elsewhere, that foundation is being threatened. Next year, due to stagnant and declining funding levels, NOAA may be forced to reduce the number of survey vessels in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, as well as the number of fishing vessels carrying observers. This loss will result in greater uncertainty in the data driving management decisions, potentially leading to more precautionary catch limits and less economic benefit from our fisheries. That is unacceptable.
Congress can help fishermen, processors, coastal communities and the thousands of small businesses that depend on wild-caught, American seafood by investing in the science that allows fishermen to harvest optimum yield on a continuing basis. We must support and defend these proven strategies and resist efforts to undermine the “Alaska Model” that has served our state and our nation so well.
Shannon Carroll is deputy director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC), a member of the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC). The AMCC works to protect and restore the marine environment through sustainable fishing practices, habitat protection and local stewardship. The FCC is an association of community-based, small-boat commercial fishing groups, representing more than 1,000 independent fishermen and business owners from Maine to Alaska, who share a commitment to the sustainable management of America’s fishery resources.