The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (M-S Act) is the primary federal statute governing management of our Nation’s fisheries. It seeks to end overfishing, rebuild depleted fish populations and ensure sustainable fisheries management. The M-S Act was first passed in 1976, and most recently updated and reauthorized in 2006. It is now up for reauthorization once again with amendments likely.
Ocean Champions is working to support the reauthorization and full implementation of the M-S Act in order to enable threatened fisheries and fishing jobs to make a comeback. We recognize that this must be done in a way that is conscientious of the on-the-ground realities of the commercial and recreational fishing communities. In this effort, we are helped by the Obama administration, which has indicated that it is serious about implementing the M-S Act, and is looking at innovative approaches for doing so.
In 2006, Ocean Champions played a significant role in reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (M-S Act). The reauthorization specifically required that all 528 federally managed fish stocks have an annual catch limit and accountability measures in place by the end of 2011 in order to end overfishing once and for all.
Support the Use of Catch Shares for Fisheries Management
In some fisheries it can be argued that traditional fisheries management (limiting days at sea) has failed to achieve conservation objectives or to help fishermen. Rather than continue the mistakes of the past, we believe alternatives should be considered. While very innovative, catch shares are not a new idea. In fact, they have been implemented in hundreds of fisheries around the world both large and small. Today there are over a dozen U.S. catch shares programs in place with many more under development (where fishermen and fishery managers have voted to adopt them). Catch shares may not be ideal for all fisheries, but where they make sense, they represent locally-designed market-based solutions that have been proven to prevent or reverse overfishing and enhance fishery economics.
We believe catch shares are a powerful tool in the effort to implement the M-S Act that greatly improve our chances at ending overfishing. The reasons are clear:
Ocean Champions wants to end overfishing, reduce bycatch, and protect critical fish habitat. We feel strongly that catch shares programs increase the likelihood of success in these areas, while also offering many benefits to fishermen.
"We are in a situation where 40 years down the line we, effectively, are out of fish."
- Pavhan Sukhdev, UN Environment Program
Three fourths of the world’s fisheries are being harvested faster than they can reproduce. Much of the focus on combating overfishing has been on improving regulatory frame works, promoting market-based tools such as catch shares, and raising public awareness of sustainable seafood. While these measures have initiated the process toward more sustainable fishing, the hard fought conservation gains are threatened every day by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing worldwide. IUU or pirate fishing refers to industrial vessels that illegally fish outside of any national or international regulatory structure.
On June 17, 2014, a turning point for oceans was reached when in front of ocean leaders from more than 80 nations at the U.S. State Department’s “Our Ocean” conference, President Obama announced the creation of a new initiative to prevent illegally caught fish from reaching US markets. The Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud was established, co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and State.
On March 15, 2015, the Presidential task force released its action plan to combat IUU.
Shark "finning" is the practice of removing the fins of a shark while at sea and discarding the rest of the body. Not only is this practice cruel and wasteful, it allows vessels to bring in unsustainably high numbers of sharks. It is estimated that fins from between 26 to 73 million sharks enter the global trade each year according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The incessant demand and value of shark fins in Asian markets for the highly prized “shark fin soup” is the economic driver of this international practice. Though the United States, the European Union and various Regional Fisheries Management Organizations have adopted bans and regulations, lack of enforcement mechanisms and loopholes in legislation have undermined their success.
Ocean Champions' David Wilmot played a major role in establishing the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, and Ocean Champions continues to work with its friends in Congress to look for opportunities to strengthen existing law.
This bill banned shark finning in U.S. waters, but did not specify that fins could be transported on a “non-fishing vessel”. This resulted in a legal battle when the Coast Guard encountered a US registered vessel carrying 64,695 pounds of shark fins. The fins had been transshipped to the vessel at sea and the boat was not considered a fishing vessel under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act. The SFPA was not sufficient to indict the vessel and a loophole in the law was uncovered.
Sponsor: Ocean champion Delegate Madeleine Bordallo
Ocean champion Cosponsors: Sen. Mazie Hirono, Rep. Jim Moran, Rep. Sam Farr, Rep. Lois Capps, Rep. Jerry McNerny, Rep. Rush Holt
This amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Act making it illegal to possess shark fins at sea or transfer them to another vessel. However, if shark finning is to be curbed, international cooperation and binding agreements must also come into play with state regulations.
Though shark finning in U.S. waters is banned by federal law, ill-gotten fins can still be imported into the U.S. Demand for fins in Asian markets drives the import of fins taken from other nations. Several states have enacted legislation to ban the trade, sale and possession of shark fins. With the grassroots initiative of state governments, a federal ban on the trade including the import of shark fins could be on the horizon. If demand is cut by eliminating major markets for shark fins, then the practice of finning should diminish as well.