Populations of U.S. fish stocks, 1981-2011, showing population trends (5-year moving average) for all fish stocks subject to post-Sustainable Fisheries Act rebuilding plans with sufficient information to evaluate progress under the plans, and that are either rebuilt (and not designated as approaching an overfished condition) or have recovered to at least 50% of the rebuilding target and shown at least a 25% increase in abundance since plan start (28 stocks). Graphic: NRDC

6 March 2013 (NRDC) – The bounty of America's fisheries have fed a hungry nation, built homes, seduced tourists, fueled commercial enterprises, put kids through college, and provided a decent living to millions.

But in the late 1980s and 1990s, many fish stocks off our shores, from haddock in New England to summer flounder in the Mid-Atlantic to lingcod off the Pacific coast, had crashed. Catch levels were too high, fleets were increasingly efficient, and managers were reluctant to take painful but necessary steps to sustain and rebuild populations. In response to this crisis, Congress passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) in 1996, which amended the federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, to require that overfished ocean fish stocks be rebuilt in as short a time period as possible not to exceed 10 years (with certain limited exceptions).

NRDC undertook an evaluation [pdf] of how effective the Magnuson-Stevens Act's rebuilding requirements have been over the last decade and a half. We examined population and other trends for all fish stocks that were subject to the requirements and for which sufficient information was available to assess rebuilding progress (a total of 44 stocks).

Our evaluation found:

  • 28 of 44 fish stocks -- or 64 percent -- have been designated rebuilt or met their rebuilding targets, or have made significant rebuilding progress.
  • 21 stocks have been designated rebuilt or met rebuilding targets (and have not been designated as again approaching an overfished condition).
  • Seven stocks have made significant rebuilding progress, defined as achieving at least 50 percent of the rebuilding target and a 25 percent increase in abundance since the start of its rebuilding plan.
  • Estimated average annual 2008-2010 gross commercial revenues from these 28 stocks totaled almost $585 million -- 92 percent higher (54 percent when adjusted for inflation) than revenues at the start of rebuilding.
  • Eight stocks have made limited rebuilding progress (either achieving 50 percent of their target or a 25 percent increase in abundance) and eight stocks have shown a lack of rebuilding progress (achieving neither of these thresholds).
  • Areas of concern include (a) gaps in the application of the rebuilding requirements, such as with respect to stocks that are not federally managed, are of "unknown" population status, or are internationally managed; (b) regions, such as New England, the South Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico, with significant proportions of stocks showing a lack of rebuilding progress; and (c) continued overfishing during rebuilding plans.

Bringing Back the Fish

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