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Magnuson-Stevens Act and the history of the first fishery disaster

Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin Tuna
Magnuson-Stevens Act, fishery, fishermen, conservationists, bottom trawling,

The current brings in upwellings of cold, nutrient rich water from the ocean. These rich waters account for many species of groundfish, anchovies, and sardines, which feed tuna, marlin, and salmon and large quantities of krill, the staple food for the great whale. The more diverse the fishery, the more stable the fishery is.

Diversity and productivity are linked

Balancing them depends on how much human demand exists for the resources, and the flow toward money and power. Diversity offers fishermen a form of insurance. Investing in the ability of fishing communities to find new ways of operating and controlling pollution and creating marine reserves, increases the production and reliability of the waters and ecosystems.

Fishing is following the same pattern of the farmer

A natural forest, not one replanted with all of one kind of tree, holds the water effectively, cools the air and provides timber, rotting nutrients and so on. If a farmer’s short term goal is to just grow one kind of crop then diversity means nothing to him. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, more than 80-percent of the earth’s fisheries are either fully exploited, meaning no growth is possible or over exploited meaning they have been pushed to their limits.

People have fished commercially until there is nothing but rocks and sand left

Like the old cultures that collapsed when environmental destruction contributed significantly, the story is as old as civilization. More than half the boats that used to fish commercially want out, and they are staying out longer and coming home with empty nets.

Many depleted species live alongside target species

Bottom trawling–dragging large heavy nets across the seafloor and scooping up everything that was around seemed efficient at the time, but the hard lessons are here. The nets tore up the bottom and captured piles of starfish, sponges, sharks, and rays which seemed worthless and sometimes were tossed back and most often dead.

Bottom trawling is linked with clear-cutting forests and ripping off mountaintops

Bigger fleets mean more boats at sea and in the large lakes with bigger nets. By the 70’s the signs and symptoms were obvious and Congress had to do something. Washington Democratic Sen. Warren G. Magnuson, and Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, stewarded the The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976.

The law created eight regional fishery management councils responsible for setting rules governing how many fish could be caught by how many boats and gear. This is when the Maximum Sustainable Yield came into effect.

In the 70’s and 80’s boats could go where they wanted and fish what they wanted, it was the last golden age of fishing. The fisheries rather than being overseen and managed to thrive into the future were instead watched in horror as the stocks diminished and failed one after the other. In the early 90’s the cod fishery began to collapse and in 94’ the US secretary of Commerce declared the first fishery disaster. Millions of dollars went into federal aid to help struggling fishermen.

On the opposite coast, the Pacific salmon fishery was in deep trouble

In 96’ dramatic depletion of cod and salmon spurred Congress to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act to increase the use of science to manage fish stocks and identify important habitats and protect them from trawling nets. The fishery councils were under tremendous pressure from the conservationists and the fishermen, and they were slow to name these areas. Oceana repeatedly sued the federal government.

In 2001 the Pacific Fishery Management Council was to conduct a thorough analysis of the effects of bottom trawling on the marine life and habitats

Battle lines were being drawn, distrust, litigation, and political grandstanding between economies, the environment and federal regulations led to people just plain not working together and pointing the finger, instead of opening partnerships that would have been unthinkable decades ago. But now bring together partnerships that will lead to new ways of fishing, stronger communities, a healthier marine environment and insight to the fact that our natural resources are limited and are not sustainable if they are not well managed.

The study confirmed that bottom-trawling led to the destruction of fish habitat and ecosystems

The study revealed the number of boats, the gear and the days at sea would have to change to repair the destruction. New methods of fishing and less destructive gear were necessary.

Fisheries around the world were collapsing and countries were suffering huge economic losses, and everyone concerned said bottom-trawling had to go

Fishermen stayed or left after the disaster of 2000. Fishermen sat at the table like never before and divulged trade secrets they had resisted telling before, about how often and how much and what they caught when they were there. No one had ever tried this approach before. No trawling zones were set.

Some fisheries leased back the trawl zones and the fishermen were asked not to bottom trawl, but a few still did. The troubled fisheries had to take back what they leased out. In 2011 the fishery council agreed to lease out trawl permits provided new, sustainable gear was used It was a sensitive and crucial first step, known as the “Conservation Fishing Agreement.” Just like a landowner signs an agreement not to sell or divide up the land or use it in certain ways, so do the fishermen. If you own a house you need a permit to do just about any little thing, but there were no laws on the sea.

Catch shares are still working the bugs and knots out. But now up-to-the-minute data makes sure there are no lags in regulators and that information is acted on immediately by hours and days instead of months and years.

Fishermen and conservationists can work together, we have to, the fish depend on us. Pebble Mine has no place in Alaska, and neither does anything else like it, have a place in the waters of the United States of America.

To get the latest updates from Atlanta Fishing Examiner Tina Ranieri ‘click’ the subscribe button above. To view her body of articles ‘click’ Tina Ranieri, National Holistic Health Examiner, or Atlanta Holistic Health Examiner.

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