Sunday, January 22, 2012

Magnuson-Stevens Act: recognized as a rare bipartisan success story

In the United States, for the past several years the national congress - the House of Representatives and the Senate - have been scoring abysmal approval ratings with its citizens in survey after survey and it's primarily due to one facet of today's politics: simply getting along has become a dirty word.

Whether based on political or ideological differences between the two main parties or the need to gain a tactical advantage for an upcoming election, Republicans and Democrats seem dead set opposed to bipartisanship. Where this is all going to ultimately end up is hard to say. However, there was a time when political rancor was momentarily set aside and politicians worked together to produce a piece of legislation that, although not perfect, highlighted the political process at its best: representing the interests of the people, the nation, and its natural resources. Yes, that's right. Natural resources. It was for the benefit of conservation.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) first came to light in 1976 and was designed to eliminate rampant foreign overfishing in U.S. waters and set initial fishery management policies to ensure the future of U.S. commercial fishing by avoiding overfishing. This foundation of today's national fishery management program received bipartisan support and was noteworthy because while politicians were interested in supporting the commercial fishing interests, they also recognized that overfishing would certainly lead to the industry's demise.

With the ball now set in play, in 1996 politicians from both sides of the isle came together again to support amendments to the bill that actually shifted the focus from simply supporting the fishing industry to conserving sustainable fish populations. Politicians realized that the future of the commercial fishing industry and the conservation of species were forever linked but, in the end, it was the primacy of protecting fish populations that would prove beneficial to both industry and nature.

Finally, in 2006, the Bush administration, in one of its arguably better accomplishments, took the important step of reauthorizing the MSA with the added proviso that it would be science-based research that would determine annual catch limits. While I personally have many bones to pick with the previous administration's attempts to undermine the independent science-based approach with regards to the Environmental Protection Agency and endangered species, this was indeed one of their brighter moments.

“Based on the actions of the fishery management councils, it appears that the U.S. has fundamentally ended overfishing in federally-managed domestic fisheries. This is an enormous achievement, and one that Congress and the Administration clearly intended in its 2007 reauthorization of [the MSA]. ... The Magnuson-Stevens Act is without doubt the premier fisheries law in the world,” Dr. Bill Hogarth, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant administrator for fisheries during the George W. Bush administration, was quoted as saying in a recent Pew Environment Group fact sheet.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act is an organic piece of legislation, continually being tweaked and, hopefully, improved upon either to itself or related legislation - as was the case recently with regards to shark fishing regulations and the need to land any shark whole, not just for its fins. However, to continue with effective, independent science-based decisions on sustainability requires ongoing research, staffing to monitor catches and, most importantly, funding.

So, it will require the continued realization and understanding between legislators of all parties that nature has no interest in our current political rancor or oft times competing economic priorities. And to abuse our natural resources, whether at sea or on land, will only guarantee the future will be bleak and finite for many species. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is a model and a reminder of how a responsible government should act.

Click here to download an MSA fact sheet (PDF).
PEG News Room

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