From the dawn of time man has gone to sea to catch fish. The sea seemed so vast and the harvest so plentiful that fish were considered “inexhaustible”. By the 1970’s man had become so adept at “vacuuming the sea” that people finally realized that one of man’s most precious resources was in deep trouble and needed dramatic action to stop them from disappearing.
While fisheries around the globe continue to be raped, in 1976 the U.S. passed the Magnuson Stevens Act. It was a long term vision to rebuild and protect fish stocks. It took more than 30 years to effectively implement, but by 2012 all federally managed fisheries have been declared rebuilt or being rebuilt.
Eight Regional Fishery Management Councils are charged with executing fishery management plans, both to restore depleted stocks and manage healthy stocks. Regional councils regulate fishers with mechanisms, including regulating fishing gear, annual catch limits or quotas, and individual transferable quotas or “catch shares“. They commonly place limits on the amount of fish that can be harvested, the amount of fishermen that can participate in a fishery, and where, when, and how fish can be caught. These limits are based on levels determined by scientists to ensure that fish are not being caught too quickly (called overfishing) and that enough fish are left in the ocean to reproduce and keep the population and ecosystem healthy (not overfished).
This process has come with a very high price to American fishermen and the traditional communities they support. The system of catch shares remains controversial in that small scale fishermen fear the quota being consolidated by industrial operators. Although imperfect, American fishery management has become the beacon of the world, and other nations are looking to copy our success. For the first time in decades young fishermen are seeing a better future, and there is now hope that our grandchildren enjoy the rich bounty of our seas.
As winter still grips half the nation, the sun is beginning to shine on the gulf coast. Sea to Table team members Sean Dimin, Travis Riggs, and Jacob Tupper traveled last week from Louisiana around the Texas coast meeting with fishermen and shrimpers. They found crawfish season starting strong, and we hope to have some new docks to work with later this spring.
And heartfelt congratulations to our Travis Riggs and his beautiful new bride Nicole.
All the best,
from the Dimin Family and the Sea to Table team