Bringing Back the Fish: An Evaluation of U.S. Fisheries Rebuilding Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

The bounty of America's fisheries have fed a hungry nation, built homes, seduced tourists, fueled commercial enterprises, put kids through college, and provided a decent living to millions.

But in the late 1980s and 1990s, many fish stocks off our shores, from haddock in New England to summer flounder in the Mid-Atlantic to lingcod off the Pacific coast, had crashed. Catch levels were too high, fleets were increasingly efficient, and managers were reluctant to take painful but necessary steps to sustain and rebuild populations. In response to this crisis, Congress passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) in 1996, which amended the federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, to require that overfished ocean fish stocks be rebuilt in as short a time period as possible not to exceed 10 years (with certain limited exceptions).

NRDC undertook an evaluation of how effective the Magnuson-Stevens Act's rebuilding requirements have been over the last decade and a half. We examined population and other trends for all fish stocks that were subject to the requirements and for which sufficient information was available to assess rebuilding progress (a total of 44 stocks).