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A Successful Scorecard: Science-Based Management for U.S. Fisheries is Rebuilding Stocks

It’s important for a business or industry to have a scorecard to show just how successful – or unsuccessful- they were during any given year. Some may showcase profit margins while others highlight specific triumphant events. Right now, United States fisheries have a great scorecard that reflects growing achievement every year in terms of recovering overexploited stocks.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report that basically scores the success of our fisheries. The Status of Stocks 2013 annual report for Congress provides an exciting look into the nations improving fisheries status and has us anticipating much more recovery. And the reason behind our success? Science! This report provides proof that our science-based management system for fisheries is effective at rebuilding stocks and protecting the marine environment. Such good news is a reason for everyone involved in the seafood industry – from the fishermen down to the consumer – to rejoice.

Researchers participating in the Fish Survey Project in the Channel Islands pause to pose for a photo.
Image courtesy of NOAA’s Photo Library via Flickr

Rebuilding our fisheries

It’s always awful to hear news about the stocks of our favorite species collapsing or reaching the level of overexploitation – and nowadays we hear it all too much. It’s very exciting – and refreshing – to witness the opposite side of the spectrum and hear about fisheries that are improving under a well-managed plan.

Between thirty and forty years ago, many fisheries in the U.S. were in trouble. Our finfish populations, in particular, were buckling under tremendous fishing pressures with the invention of new technology, growing commercial fleets of fishing vessels, and ineffective management measures. Fortunately, the U.S. government recognized that if things continued this way, we would soon decimate our domestic seafood supply. The seafood industry is extremely important for the economy of the United States, supporting millions of jobs and providing a local source of healthy food. Continuing down this path of overfishing was simply not acceptable.

In response to the increasingly dire situation, the government tightened regulations on the Magnuson-Stevens Act in the late 1990s, making fishermen and fisheries much more regulated and accountable. We focused more on having hard catch limits and initiating “catch share” systems where all the fishermen received an equal cut of the overall haul.

This infographic reflects stocks that were overfished in 2010.
Image courtesy of the National Marine Fisheries Service via Wikimedia Commons

Science-based management

One of the most important measures we put in place was the focus on science-based management. Science gives us a tremendous amount of data using biological surveys, fishing vessel/catch surveys, population modeling, and predictions of natural ocean cycles. Researchers take all this data and condense it into a neat package to provide information on how the commercial (and recreational) industries are impacting certain species. Regulators now rely on this information to make decisions on catch limits, permitting, and season length. Science is not perfect, of course, and there has been much resistance from some fishermen on the regulations imposed. Many believe that the science is just wrong regarding the information on some fisheries, and that the populations are doing much better than researchers would have us believe. However, overall we are seeing fantastic improvement in a system managed by science. Even if the science is conservative, in the long run a science-based management system generates greater profits.

We have found that fisheries that rely on scientific research can become very profitable and benefit fishermen, their communities, and consumers. A well-managed fishery can indefinitely sustain jobs and create profit while keeping our marine ecosystems healthy. Science will give us the tools to understand the effect of climate change on fisheries and how to better protect and conserve habitat. Management based on science simply creates a better balance between humans and nature, allowing us to take what we need while protecting our natural resources.

A research team deploys an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle that will gather data on ocean conditions to help us better understand the marine environment.
Image courtesy of NOAA’s National Ocean Service via Flickr


All of our efforts are working! The report from NOAA outlined how seven stocks came off the overfishing list and four stocks were no longer listed as overfished. Two stocks were rebuilt during 2013, bringing the total number of rebuilt stocks to 34 since 2000. That’s an enormous success for a span of just 13 years. Granted, NOAA only assesses a little over half of the types of fish that are actually regulated, but this half consists of the ones that carry the highest economic value for the nation’s seafood industry. There is still much to be done, but this report has given us much hope for the future and made us a model for efficient and effective fisheries management.

It’s amazing to highlight the success of our domestic fisheries. As they continue to improve, we will strengthen our marine ecosystems and improve the value of certain fisheries in the market. More jobs will be created, communities will profit, and consumers will have more sustainable seafood choices. Celebrate the recovery of our nation’s fisheries by ordering your wholesale seafood from Pucci Foods, a Marine Stewardship Council certified distributor.

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