DEEP: 1984 - Action Taken to Protect Marine Fisheries

Top 40
Environmental Accomplishments of the Past 40 Years

Action Taken to Protect Marine Fisheries


State Waters
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) was formed in the early 1940s to coordinate management of migratory fish stocks harvested in state waters. However, it was not until 1984 when Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act that interstate fishery management plans contained mandatory conservation provisions. This aggressive new approach to conservation proved extremely successful in turning the depleted striped bass stock around, such that it was fully rebuilt within a decade. Drawing on the striped bass success story, Congress passed the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (ACFCMA) in 1993 which made compliance with all ASMFC fishery management plans mandatory.

Today, winter flounder is the only species of the 24 managed by ASMFC that is experiencing overfishing. That situation was addressed during 2009 with an effective closure of directed winter flounder fishing in state waters and a total ban on winter flounder harvest from federal waters. Similar progress is being made in federal waters around the nation, to the benefit of all Americans through enhanced seafood production, economic output and recreational fishing opportunities.

Federal Waters
The New England Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils established under provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) approved by Congress in 1976. The Act also created a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and phased out foreign fishing, which was viewed as a common culprit in overfishing. The overall goal of the MSA was to develop domestic fishing capacity in order to fully utilize our rich fishery resources while preventing overharvesting brought about by foreign fleets.

Domestic fishing capacity grew rapidly in the absence of the foreign fleets, preventing many stocks from recovering. In some fisheries domestic capacity actually exceeded that of the former foreign fleets, leading to further overfishing and the collapse of many fish stocks. In response, Congress enhanced the MSA with the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) in 1996 with the aim of ending overfishing. Over the next decade, the SFA achieved significant stock rebuilding in many cases, most notably in Atlantic sea scallops, haddock, and scup, but fell short of expectations that all fish stocks would be fully recovered.

Determined to end overfishing and assure that all fisheries were sustainable, Congress reauthorized the MSA Act in 2006 with modifications including rigid annual catch limits. This new law requires a rapid end to all overfishing and sets extremely conservative limits on harvest to ensure that overfishing no longer occurs.

More Information

What You Can Do
  • Buy and eat only those fish species that are sustainably managed and harvested (see the last link above).
  • Become informed about fisheries management and fisheries laws and regulations.
  • Attend public meetings and hearings and provide input on draft FMP amendments and addenda.
  • Practice catch and release fishing.
  • Use circle hooks and practice careful fish handling techniques.

"The recovery of striped bass; not necessarily something we are solely responsible for, but we certainly were a part of. It was accomplished through host partnering with the states that are part of the Atlantic States Marine Fish Commission, and other agencies. But I can tell you what we have achieved. Our information, records go back to the 1880's. This year science showed that there are more stripe(d bass) as in any time of the history of this nation...."
from the testimony of Rollie Schmitten, head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, before the Fisheries Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee, September 11, 1997