Saving the fishes in Plastic Free July!

Inspired by the optimism and ingenuity of Plastic Free July, I started searching for other ways to protect our vulnurable ocean.  My research revealed something all U.S. residents need to know right now about protecting our fisheries.

On Wednesday – July 11, 2018 the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 200.  Also known as ‘‘The Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act’’, H.R. 200 aims to weaken fishing regulations.  Current fishery management, established in 1976 under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), bases policy and management strategy on scientific population studies.  H.R. 200 will shift the focus from ecology-based concervation to economic gains while reversing decades of success.

Current fishery management strategies have led to the rebuilding of 40 U.S. fisheries since 2000.  Although there has been a recent increase in several populations, many fisheries still need improvement.  Weakenng regulations only increase the detremental effects of over-fishing.  Sustainable fishing practices preseve our fisheries and our fishing industry.  In spirit of Plastic Free July, marine conservation, and seafood lovers everywhere, it is important to act now!

What is H.R. 200?

Introduced by Representative Don Young (AK), H.R. 200 seeks to “provide flexibility for fishery managers and stability for fishermen.”  Essentially, H.R. 200 will weaken regulations set forth in the MSA and transfer management from science to industry, favoring economy over ecology.  Supporters of the bill argue that tight fishing regulations constrain jobs and recreational anglers while proponents claim that the sustainted health of fisheries is priority.

H.R. 200 focuses on two major ammendments to MSA: (1) adjusting management plans for overfished species and (2) adjusting catch-limits to incorporate economic needs.  To accomplish these goals, H.R. 200 overwrites scientifically-based management strategies which have thus far proven successful.  Furthermore, the proposed ammendments in H.R. 200 challenge foundational environmental policy including the Endangerd Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.  Email your representative now to preserve our fishing management strategies and maintain science-based regulation.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), fully rebuilt fisheries would add an estimated $31 billion to the economy and create 500,000 new jobs nationwide.   Currently, 15% of fisheries are considered overfished while data is lacking on nearly half the fished species in the U.S.   As described in a recent congressional report by the Congressional Committee on Natural Resources, H.R. 200 will encourage poor management practicies and will result in economic loss as well as environmental damage.

How does H.R. 200 loosen environmental standards?

The Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act seeks to loosen catch-limits for several species by amending current regulations.  For instance, Under H.R. 200 short lived species (those that live approximately one year) will be exempt from catch-limits.  Though small and short-lived, these species are often bait fish, whose populations are critical to sustain larger game fish, birds, and marine mammals AND commerical fisheries.  H.R. 200 also lifts catch-limits for species on which popuilation data is lacking.  Of the approximately 500 fished species, poulation and/or fishing data is lacking for nearly half.  Scientists are uncertian how lifing catch-limit regulations will impact these species.

To alter the managment plans of overfished species, H.R. 200 simply redefines the term “overfished.”  Currently, the term “overfished species” applies when “a stock or stock complex has a biomass that has declined below a level that jeopardizes the capacity of the stock or stock complex to produce maximum sustainable yield on a continuing basis.’’  If passed, H.R. 200 will replace the term biomass with “fishing mortality”, linking “overfished species” purely to fishing mortalities while basing the newly-created “depleted” ranking upon biomass indicators.

It should be noted that  H.R. 200 distinguishes ‘‘between fisheries that are depleted (or approaching that condition) as a result of fishing and fisheries that are depleted (or approaching that condition) as a result of factors other than fishing.  The report shall state, for each fishery identified as depleted or approaching that condition, whether the fishery is the target of directed fishing.’’   Therefore, if passed, “overfished” species can only be labeled such if their most recent population decrease is linked directly to fishing practices.  Fish kills due to pollution, entanglement in ghost gear, or environmental changes, do not constitute a fishing mortality. By introducing the term “depleted” inplace of “overfished” throughout the MSA, mortalities that not did occur due to fishing will be ignored when determining catch limits.

Population models work the same reguardless of the reason for the mortality.  Maximum sustainable yeild (MSY), the goal of a productive fishery, is achieved when the maximum amount of organisms are harvested without inhibiting population growth.  An accurate population size is required to calculate MSY; However, distinguishing between fishing mortality and other causes of mortality skews the population size and does more harm than good.  By only including fishing mortalities in the “overfished” catagory, low fish populatuons will not recieve the protection and sequential growth required to rebound UNLESS their low population size is the result of poor fishery management.  H.R. 200 is dangerous because it attmpts to re-define scientifically-backed demographic equations and will result in depleated fish stocks.

H.R. 200 includes several other questional adjustments.  Most notably, it will create loopholes excempting managers from setting reasonable timelines for rebuilding fish stocks.  The bill will also shift the management of Red Snapper in Gulf of Mexico from the federal to the state level, making management less streamiline and more difficult to enforce.  Interestingly, red snapper mortalities due to oil rig removal will not be included when determining demographics.  Furthermore, a congressional summary of the bill clearly states that “NOAA must develop guidelines that will incorporate data from private entities into fishery management plans.”  When private entities (companies) produce their own privately-funded data there is a higher liklihood for bias.  Just as the tabaco companies of the 1970’s or the sugar companies of today hate to advertise their adverse effects, private commercial fishing industries hesitate to advertise their harmful affect on our environment.  H.R. 200 attempts to remove science from the hands of credible scientists in turn for commerical gain.  Lastly, tucked into the final section of H.R. 200 is the ammendment to prohibit shark-feeding off the coast of Florida except for scientific research and “the purpose of harvesting sharks.”

If passed, The Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act will replace conservation interests with economic ones, impacting our nations’ fisheries and fishing industry for years to come.

 What can you do?

Contact your representative and tell them “NO” for H.R. 200.  Inform them that H.R. 200 harms fisheries and our oceans.  Click here for more talking points.

Voting on H.R. 200 will occur on July 11, 2018.  The Pew Cheritable Trusts has compiled a pre-written email, talking points for a phone call, and a pre-written tweet.  Make your voice heard.  Share this article to educate others and encourage others to do the same.  A “NO” for H.R. 200 will be a victory for all.

Sign-up for Plastic Free July!  It is estimated that 100 marine organisms die annually from plastic pollution.  88% of ocean plastics originate on land – do your part to reduce ocean plastic pollution.  Here are some tips to cut your plastic use, today!



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