30 Years of Marine Fish Management
A History of the Magnuson-Stevens Act
Originally passed by Congress in 1976, what is now commonly known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act governs marine fisheries management in the federal waters of the United States. The motivation behind the initial Act was the rapid increase of foreign fishing fleets along the coasts of the United States and the associated decline of fisheries. The law extended the territorial waters of the U.S. from 12 to 200 miles and initiated a phase-out of foreign fleets within these new "exclusive economic zones." In order to manage the fisheries, the law also created eight Regional Fishery Management Councils.
Although the Act was successful in removing foreign fishing vessels from U.S. waters, improved technology and a growing demand for seafood spawned a dramatic increase in the number and efficiency of domestic commercial fishing boats. As a result, once- plentiful fisheries teetered on the brink of collapse. Twenty years after the original law was passed, the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 amended the law to prevent overfishing and encourage efforts to rebuild fisheries. In addition, Congress enhanced the original law with measures designed to minimize the bycatch of non-target marine life, protect essential fish habitat, and improve research and monitoring.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act has done much for marine fisheries in its 30 years, and the reauthorization of the bill in 2006 will provide the next step in improving management of declining fisheries and marine ecosystems.