Conserving Wild Fisheries
Laws & Regulations Matter
In 1976, in response to widespread overfishing and increasing numbers of foreign fishing vessels in U.S. waters, Congress passed the Fishery Conservation and Management Act (since renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act or the Magnuson-Stevens Act for short, after two of its main sponsors). The law banned foreign fishing vessels within 200 miles of shore and promoted the expansion of the American fishing industry, leading to record catch levels in many ports. By the early 1990s, with the industry overcapitalized and many fish stocks depleted, the catch of some of the most commercially valuable fish -- such as New England cod and haddock -- had collapsed.
Chronic overfishing was "deep frying the goose that laid the golden egg," as former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) once said. Everyone, including the fishing industry, recognized the country's fisheries were in crisis.
In 1996, Congress responded by amending the Magnuson-Stevens Act to add a number of significant conservation requirements, including to require the timely rebuilding of depleted fish stocks. The new requirements led to the rebuilding of a number of important fish populations, such as haddock and sea scallops from New England, snow crab from the Bering Sea and summer flounder from the East Coast. Chronic overfishing, however, continued to hold back the recovery of other fish stocks. In 2006, Congress once again strengthened the Magnuson-Stevens Act by requiring fisheries managers to abide by the recommendations of scientists in establishing annual catch limits that do not allow overfishing.
Today, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has a clear track record of success and is frequently cited as a model legal framework in other countries. Nonetheless, dozens of major fish stocks remain depleted and are still subject to overfishing. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, about one in four stocks with known status remain overfished, while one in five stocks are still subject to overfishing.
last revised 7/20/2012
Sign up for NRDC's online newsletter
Oceans on Switchboard
NRDC experts write about the growing risks to the health of our oceans on the NRDC blog.
Recent Oceans Posts
- NRDC Advocate Named "Hero of the Seas" for Creating Underwater Parks
- posted by Frances Beinecke, 5/15/13
- Top 5 Benefits of AB 521
- posted by Brant Olson, 5/9/13
- A Brighter Blue Budget
- posted by Alexandra Adams, 4/26/13
NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
- Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
- Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
- NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.