Warming waters are threatening fish populations and disrupting fisheries around the world—a challenge set to worsen as climate change advances. But despite the importance of sustaining fisheries, the reauthorization of the cornerstone policy protecting them in the United States—the Magnuson-Stevens Act—has been stalled in Congress for a decade partly because some argue the policy is hurting the industry.
Harris School of Public Policy Assistant Professor Eyal Frank and University of Delaware School of Marine Science and Policy Assistant Professor Kimberly Oremus compared the US fish population and industry before and after the policy went into effect. They found that after US fisheries qualified for a rebuilding plan, the fish population gained biomass and 5-10 years later the population had increased by 40% in size (blue line). Looking at fish catch and revenue, the researchers found that there was a decline in the first years after the policy’s rebuilding efforts went into effect. But in the 10 to 15 years after, the fishing revenue had rebounded to be higher than pre-rebuilding levels (yellow line). While the catch had declined, in comparison to EU catch levels, the researchers found that the US catch was about 52 percent higher (not shown). The research shows that US fishing policy has played an important role in improving the sustainability of fishing, while not hurting the industry—and even, improving industry revenue over time.