In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the 109th Congress had the opportunity to leave the session as ocean heroes. Instead, they passed a bill with mostly incremental changes to the existing law that governs America's fisheries. The re-authorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act seems to focus more on who gets to catch the fish in the ocean and not about how we can make sure that there will always be enough fish to catch and eat.
The bill weakens the role of the public in managing its marine resources by raising barriers to access to data. It also advances policies to privatize our fisheries without mandating conservation standards to protect the public's interest in maintaining healthy oceans.
Two recent commissions and the scientific community agree--our oceans are in danger and we don't have much time to save them. Just weeks ago, this report predicted the collapse of all our fisheries by 2048.
There are a few bright spots in the legislation including its call for research and protection of deep-sea corals and sponges from destructive fishing gear. It just so happens, we played a significant role in the inclusion of this language. Other improvements over current law include provisions to address overfishing, greater responsibility for scientists in setting catch limits and a new emphasis on international issues.
Here's to hoping that the 110th Congress can manage our oceans as ecosystems and not just for money fish.