Managing ocean fisheries

Declining stocks: Greater attention to problems of over-fishing and habitat loss is needed.

November 06, 2001

DESPITE a quarter-century of U.S. law requiring management of ocean fisheries, a growing number of American marine fish species are in serious trouble.

Over-fishing and destruction of essential habitat are threatening the future of numerous species.

Government figures show more than 100 federally managed species are in jeopardy.

Thirty-one species are at risk of extinction.

Further, the status of more than three-quarters of the nation's fisheries hasn't even been evaluated.

This mismanagement of valuable resources costs taxpayers about $78 million a year in emergency spending and aid to fishermen, according to the Marine Fish Conservation Network, a coalition of environmentalists, fishermen and scientists.

The eight regional management councils charged with preventing over-fishing, rebuilding endangered fish populations and protecting sea floor habitat have not taken decisive action. The National Marine Fisheries Service has not forced them to do so.

The landmark Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 set strong goals for replenishing U.S. fish stocks and reducing the wasteful killing of marine animals and birds caught in fishing nets. But technical loopholes, inadequate funding and a lack of will have thwarted those objectives.

A new congressional mandate, toughening existing law, is needed. Maryland's Rep. Wayne Gilchrest sponsored such legislation last year.

Now Rep. Sam Farr of California is introducing a similar bill, with earmarked funding from foreign seafood customs duties.

Stationing observers on fishing boats to monitor catches is an essential element. Reducing the accidental bycatch of vulnerable fish species and marine wildlife is a key objective. And with the status of some 700 species essentially unknown, better information is crucial for management plans.

Restoring ocean fisheries requires a greater emphasis on conservation, of species and habitat.

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