Commercial fishing employs 1.2 million Americans and generates more than $165 billion annually. Recently, fishing industry advocates have claimed that the main policy that manages fisheries in the United States—the Magnuson-Stevens Act—is too stringent and unnecessarily leaves too many fish in the water (i.e. “underutilized stocks”). Their pushback is one factor that has delayed the reauthorization of the policy for a decade.
Studying 170 fish stocks that are the source of the plurality of fish caught in the United States, EPIC Scholar Eyal Frank, an assistant professor at the Harris School of Public Policy, and his co-authors found that while fishing policy has vastly decreased “overfishing” to bring fish stocks to sustainable levels (blue line), the 88 fish stocks considered “underutilized” were so prior to the policy going into effect. They remained so after the passage of the policy due to pure economics.
In reviewing stock assessments and fishery management plans as well as interviewing stock assessors, the researchers learned that the main reason fishers are not harvesting these fish is because there is not enough demand for them. So, in most cases, the law is not to blame for leaving too many fish in the ocean.