A 40-Year Law Governs How Fishing Industry Works

By Chris Adams

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was borne in a time of crisis, when foreign fisheries were draining the world’s oceans of fish. That was 1976.

Its reauthorization 20 years later came at a time that U.S. boats were pulling too many fish from the sea, decimating some species. The 1996 reauthorization solved many of the problems with the original law, but still left some loopholes.

Those were then closed in 2006.

“It was the one that really worked,” said Matt Tinning, associate vice president of oceans for the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy organization. Tinning (bio, Twitter) gave National Press Foundation fellows an overview of the act, which regulates the nation’s fisheries and has played a major role in the recovery of overfished species.

The 2006 fixes helped close loopholes from the 1996 reauthorization. In 1996, for example, catch limits were put on some species but not all, leaving major gaps. In 1996, the law gave regional fisheries councils authority to set catch limits but didn’t specify how those were to be set; the 2006 fixes mandated that scientists were the ones determining reasonable limits.

“The changes might sound reasonably modest, but they were what made the sustainability measures really stick,” Tinning said.

Overall, he said, the act “is a stunning success story,” Tinning said.

Tinning detailed the recovery of some fish species, such as red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and groundfish in the Pacific Ocean. A total of 44 fish stocks have been rebuilt, as of early 2018.

In 2018, the act is up for reauthorization, with efforts in the House and Senate seeking to revamp either major or minor parts of it.

This program is funded by the Walton Family Foundation. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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