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Sustainable Fisheries Management in the Legislative Crosshairs

An 11th-hour attempt to weaken the country's fishery protections has been averted—for now.

When Jeff Farvour got serious about fishing 23 years ago, he chose picturesque Sitka, Alaska, with its thriving halibut fishery, for his home port. Halibut is Farvour’s favorite fish, although he also harvests salmon from his 40-foot vessel, the Apollo.

In 2007, however, halibut stocks in the Gulf of Alaska plummeted, and regulators cut fishermen’s allowed catch limit by 78 percent over a four-year period to allow the fish population time to rebuild.

“We understood the cuts that were needed,” said Farvour, who is a member of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, a group of 300 mostly small-boat fishermen practicing sustainable methods. “It was devastating financially, but we accepted it, and the stocks bounced back pretty quickly.”

Today, the halibut fishery’s health helps make Sitka the 16th most valuable port in the nation. Fishermen there harvested some 91 million pounds of fish (including other species such as salmon, black cod, and herring) at a $75 million value in 2017.

Success stories like this make U.S. fisheries some of the best managed in the world, thanks in large part to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act (the Magnuson Act), the nation’s science-based fishery management system that puts conservation at its heart. In recent years, however, recreational fishermen’s associations and their allies in Congress have sought to weaken the law through sweeping reauthorization bills, and more focused legislation targeting red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. Such efforts seek to remove certain species from the Magnuson Act’s oversight and change the rules for managing depleted stocks, among other provisions that could threaten the long-term viability of the nation’s fisheries.

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