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For Alaska fisheries, reason to celebrate 40 years of Magnuson-Stevens Act

  • Author: , , Sam Cotten
    ,
  • Updated: June 25, 2016
  • Published April 11, 2016

April 13, 2016, marks the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a law that took U.S. fisheries management in federal waters from being virtually nonexistent to becoming a global model of sustainability.

Nowhere is this truer than in Alaska, where our fisheries have an international reputation as being among the most sustainable and valuable fisheries on the planet, largely thanks to the collaborative and inclusive management process set up under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. One of the MSA's authors, our very own Sen. Ted Stevens, had an extraordinary vision for our nation's fisheries, especially for those in his home state of Alaska. Many elements of the state of Alaska's fishery management are woven into the fabric of the MSA.

The results? Our state produces 60 percent of all seafood harvested from U.S. waters. The Alaska seafood industry is the number one private employer in the state of Alaska, contributing an estimated $5.9 billion to the Alaska economy, and producing more than $4.2 billion first wholesale value of wild, sustainable seafood annually. For nearly 20 consecutive years, Dutch Harbor has been the top U.S. fishing port in volume of seafood landed. In 2014, Alaska ports took the top three spots in the nation in volume of seafood landed (Dutch Harbor, Kodiak and Aleutian Islands). Other Alaska fishing ports -- Alaska Peninsula, Naknek, Sitka, Ketchikan, Cordova and Petersburg -- ranked in our nation's top 20 ports by volume.

Over the past 40 years, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has proved its value to our nation's economy and ecosystems. Operating under Magnuson's robust rebuilding process -- largely patterned after long-standing practice in the North Pacific -- the occurrence of overfishing and status of overfished stocks in the U.S. are at historic lows. Only 16 percent of stocks were determined to be overfished in 2015. In Alaska, we have no stocks on the overfishing list. Only one species, the Pribilof Islands blue king crab, is categorized as overfished, with environmental factors largely to blame for the stock's decline and lack of recovery.

The investment in environmental stewardship implemented under MSA is paying off. In 2014, U.S. fishermen landed 9.5 billion pounds of fish and shellfish, worth $5.4 billion. That year, Alaska led all states in both volume and value of landings: 5.7 billion pounds harvested, with an ex-vessel value of $1.7 billion.

There are still steep challenges ahead, including climate change, bycatch reduction and habitat protection. But the commitment to science-based ecosystem management and technological innovations that allow National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and our partners to assess fish stocks under MSA equip us to collaboratively and creatively address them.

Here in Alaska, the regional public-private management process founded under MSA includes NOAA Fisheries, the state of Alaska, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the fishing industry, academia, Alaska Natives and our many stakeholders. That transparent governing process ensures that regional councils across the nation have both the muscle and the capability to flex it. The proud result is that America's finite marine resources are responsibly managed.

The collaborative council process puts the best science to work in our nation's waters, drawing on NOAA's environmental intelligence to improve stock assessments, reduce bycatch and assess the impact of climate change on fish populations. In Alaska, science is behind every fishery management decision. We've implemented the North Pacific fishery observer program to improve monitoring of fishing activity, including bycatch. This industry-funded program is one of the best in the nation. One way we are addressing the impact of climate change on fish populations is through the Alaska Fishery Science Center's Draft Southeastern Bering Sea Climate Regional Action Plan.

The goal is to get the most benefit from our fisheries for food and economic well-being, while conserving ecosystem health and fish stocks for continued productivity to benefit future generations of fishing families and coastal communities.

Whether you enjoy casting a line from a nearby pier, or savoring fish at your local restaurant, seafood is in America's DNA. Sustainable fisheries are everyone's business. Magnuson-Stevens is a tried-and-true roadmap that NOAA Fisheries, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, our nation's seven other regional councils, and fishing industries and coastal communities are making work.

James W. Balsiger is Alaska regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries.
Chris Oliver is executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Sam Cotten is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Doug DeMaster is science director of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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