A conservation success is on the line

A conservation success is on the line
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Attacks on our environment by the Trump administration are in the headlines almost every day. But you probably don’t know that this week the U.S. House of Representatives is planning to gut the law responsible for one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time: the remarkable rebound of fish populations in U.S. waters. We should be every bit as alarmed about this as we are about more high-profile environmental threats. Congress would be foolish to turn back the clock on this bipartisan achievement.

Just 20 years ago, America’s fisheries were on the brink of collapse and fishermen were struggling to survive. Thanks to a little known but very important law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the picture in many of our nation’s fisheries has dramatically improved. Since 2000, we have recovered 44 once-depleted fish species and sharply reduced overfishing in our waters. To cite one example, Gulf red snapper numbers have tripled in the past decade.

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The bill being voted on this week, H.R. 200, would significantly undermine this strong and successful law. It would weaken science-based decision-making, arbitrarily ban proven conservation tools, and take away the ability of local fishery leaders to determine what works best for them.

 

The proposed legislation would not only jeopardize our nation’s conservation successes but also limit recreational fishermen’s ability to innovate. 

For example, Susan and Randy Boggs of Orange Beach, Alabama, were excited to see red snapper populations bouncing back, but struggling to operate their recreational charter business under outdated regulations. As seasons shortened to just weeks every year, they worked with local fishery leaders to try a new approach. Together, they designed a two-year pilot program that allowed a group of headboats, a type of chartered fishing boat that charges by the person, to fish year-round using strict reporting requirements and new technology to ensure they did not overfish.

Visitors from across the country who were often shut out of red snapper fishing due to short summer seasons benefited, as did the environment. The participating headboats doubled the number of red snapper fishing trips they were able to take customers on while reducing wasteful discarding by half. It was a business and conservation success, with anglers getting more opportunities to catch red snapper. They are now working to make the program permanent.

The proposed legislation would take programs like that off the table. Indeed, a popular effort that is allowing states in the Gulf of Mexico region to test new ways to manage recreational fishing would have been impossible under this proposed law. At the same time, H.R. 200 undermines the very conservation standards that put more fish in the water. It’s a lose-lose for the environment and the fishing industry.

It’s no surprise then that fishermen from around the country, including groups like Seafood Harvesters of America, the Fishing Communities Coalition, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, have sounded the alarm and oppose this legislation. Environmental organizations like ours have joined them, along with hundreds of leading chefs, scientists and concerned citizens.

When this Congress began, many worried about what would become of our nation’s environmental achievements and the underlying laws that make many of them possible. Our organizations have been on the front lines of protecting those laws, which have proven resilient because of longstanding bipartisan support and strong pro-environment champions in Congress. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is another remarkable success story that needs our protection now more than ever. 

While we may not be able to see the effects of weakening this law like we can dirty air and water, underneath the waterline — and on our hooks and plates — the damage of this harmful legislation would be profound. It wasn’t long ago that America’s fisheries were near collapse. It was the courage and foresight of lawmakers working across the aisle that laid the foundation for the enormous progress we have made together. We need today’s members of Congress to defend those gains for the sake of current and future generations. 

Fred Krupp is the president of Environmental Defense Fund.

Gene Karpinski is the president of the League of Conservation Voters.