Living Lab
10:59 am
Mon July 8, 2013

Fishery Regulations: The Double-Edged Sword of a Vague Federal Mandate

At the heart of all contemporary fishing stories - right next to the fishermen, themselves - are the regulations that constrain fishermen's activities.

Federal fishery management is mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. That law lays out the need for management to protect marine resources, and stipulates ten national standards against which all regulations must be assessed. Among them are requirements that rules be based on the best available science, and that regulators to consider the socioeconomic impacts of their actions.

But these ten standards do little to abate the complication of fishery management. In fact, they may be the source, according to John Bullard, Northeast Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fishery Service.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was drafted to be different from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, which Bullard characterizes as mandating a top-down, one-size-fits-all framework for addressing air and water pollution. The intent was for fishery management to be different - flexible, customizable, and based on a democratic process.

The result is a tangled network of rules and regulations, set at all levels from state to international, overseeing hundreds of fish species, all of it often obscured by a deep fog of confusion and controversy. That's the downside. But Bullard and Tom Nies, Executive Director of the New England Fishery Management Council, both say it's far better to have the flexibility and public involvement than the alternative.