The Beacon

A Chance to Fix Our Fisheries?

Marine scientists are predicting that unless we change what we're doing to the ocean, we've got about twenty years before irreversible damage is done.

Scientists also tell us that the most immediate threat to ocean health is posed by the short-sighted practices of industrial scale commercial fishing. Not only are we taking too many fish out of the ocean, but we are destroying vital habitat, and killing vast numbers of wildlife - including turtles, seabirds and marine mammals along with countless fish - as accidental bycatch.

It is reasonable to wonder what you are probably thinking now: why isn't the United States government agency responsible for managing our oceans doing a better job? (FYI, that agency is called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and it is a part of the Department of Commerce.) At this point in my conversations with many of you, you suggest that along with fighting to reduce habitat destruction and bycatch, Oceana should also seek changes in the way this agency manages our oceans. If this agency has a consistently bad track record, then we need to reform the agency itself.

The word for this method of change is "governance reform" and it has all the excitement of day old pizza. As a result, you rarely see it in the papers.

But a rare opportunity to accomplish a big piece of that reform is happening right now. Congress is reauthorizing the principal law controlling how we manage our fisheries, which is called the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Oceana, together with many of our conservation colleagues, has been pointing out that this law should be strengthened to enhance the role of scientists in determining our fishing rules, broaden the membership of fishery management councils so that they are not dominated by the fishing industry, and enforce better conflict of interest rules for council members. Of course, we also want to make sure the law protects ancient deep sea corals from destructive bottom trawls, and ensure that more is done to reduce bycatch.

Although these sensible reforms have an uphill fight ahead of them in Congress, people are starting to take notice. It was a tonic to our efforts to see the editorial which ran in The New York Times last Friday. I think it will interest you too. You can click here to go to the article.


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