Some U.S. Fish Stocks Make a Comeback


Some U.S. Fish Stocks Make a Comeback
Many U.S. fish stocks once devastated by overfishing have bounced back, thanks to management plans instituted 10 to 15 years ago, according to a new study by the National Resources Defense Council. This is good news for the environment, consumers, and the billion-dollar fishing industry.

Recovered fisheries include haddock, scup, and lingcod. Other fish stocks, including lucrative New England cod, remain drastically low. The fisheries management plan studied did not apply to internationally managed stocks, such as bluefin tuna and swordfish, or fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act, such as salmon. These fisheries were not evaluated as part of the NRDC study.

Flounders are no longer floundering! These flatfish fisheries are one of many that have fully recovered after more than a decade of strict regulation from the U.S. federal government.Photograph by Jenni Wilson-Cooper
Flounders are no longer floundering! These flatfish fisheries are one of many that have fully recovered after more than a decade of strict regulation from the U.S. federal government.
Photograph by Jenni Wilson-Cooper

Discussion Ideas:

  • The NRDC study examined 44 fish stocks covered by the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the leading law governing fisheries management in the U.S. This landmark law is named after former U.S. Senators Warren G. Magnuson (D-Washington) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Why do students think Magnuson and Stevens developed this law?
    • Both senators represented states on the Pacific coast, where fishing is a major part of the regional lifestyle and economy. The senators had a vested interest in protecting stakeholders such as the fishing industry, the environment, and the tourism industry. All three stakeholders rely on healthy fish stocks.
  • Read our encyclopedic entry on sustainable fishing. Page three addresses the issue of fisheries management, and the interests of stakeholders the MSA must consider. Leading stakeholders are the fishing industry, the environment, and tourism.
    • What people or jobs are involved in each of these stakeholder positions?
      • The fishing industry includes fishers, makers of fishing tools and equipment, wholesale buyers and sellers, and shipping companies.
      • Environmental stakeholders include both government agencies and non-governmental organizations, as well as local residents and subsistence fishers, who only harvest enough fish for their families or local communities.
      • The tourism industry often incorporates stakeholders from both the fishing and environmental sectors. Tourism often relies on restaurants featuring fresh local fish, as well as sport fishing, boating, or diving industries built around the natural environment.
    • Why do students think each of these stakeholders support government regulations setting fishing quotas or catch limits?
      • Not all of them do! Catch limits, especially those set by regulators outside the industry (such as the federal government) are incredibly controversial. Many people in the fishing industry, for instance, oppose the current quotas, saying such limits reduce their profits and threaten their jobs. Nick Brancaleone, spokesman for the Northeast Seafood Coalition, says “If things stand the way they are, there really is going to be no groundfish [cod] fishery” in the future.
      • Many fishers, however, support fishing regulations. The bluefin tuna fishers profiled in Nat Geo’s Wicked Tuna series are “in this for the long run,” and think the limits will help sustain the fishery and the economy that surrounds it.
      • Environmental advocates support catch limits to sustain the health of the fish population. Many conservationists emphasize the importance of a single fish species in the larger ocean food web. Use this picture-of-practice video, “How We Fish Our Ocean,” to introduce or review the concept of food webs, trophic levels, and how overfishing top-tier predators has a radical impact on the marine environment.
      • The tourism industry may support fishing quotas to help support a healthy local environment. Sport fishing, where individual fishers catch a very limited number of high-profile fish (such as sailfish or marlin) is a lucrative industry for many communities. Maintaining healthy fish stocks is important to the sport fishing industry. Many restaurants and fish markets specialize in fresh local fish. Having to import fish or not having fish on the menu may reduce business and increase costs. In tropical areas (such as Florida or Hawaii) the diving industry encourages tourists to visit by relying on the healthy biodiversity of coral reefs or other natural habitats.
  • The MSA and other laws regulate fishing quotas, fishing equipment, and fishing zones. These laws rely primarily on the fishing industry and regulating agencies (usually the government). Review the sustainable fishing encyclopedic entry, and take a look at Nat Geo’s Seafood Decision Guide. What can students and other everyday consumers do to help protect fish stocks?

Note: We’re experimenting with a new feature here on the NG Education Blog. “Current Event Connection” posts will connect educators with news stories and relevant discussion ideas featuring content from the NG Education website. 


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