The Senate has spent four years debating reauthorization of the 1976 Magnusson Act, which governs the nation's marine fisheries. A bill currently in the upper house, S 39, would reauthorize and reform a law that has done much to bring about the current fisheries crisis.
The Magnusson Act's original intent was to halt the plunder of American fisheries by foreign factory ships and modernize the American industry. It set up eight regional councils to manage fish stocks - with most members coming from the commercial and recreational fishing industries.
The law did little to protect the fisheries, however. Instead of foreign vessels, new large American ships, financed by federal loans and equipped with sonar and huge nets, overfished the grounds. Fish stocks are now depleted to the point where cod, haddock, and other popular species are at their lowest measured levels ever. The fisheries-management councils, especially in the Northeast, have proven ineffective at ending the free-for-all. In New England, the traditional Georges Banks fishing grounds have had to be closed as an emergency measure.
The new bill, like a House measure already passed, would help prevent overfishing by redefining the term "optimum yield" to take into account the long-term health of fish stocks. It would also increase protection of marine habitat. Saving fish means saving the fisheries industry and the thousands of jobs that go with it. We urge senators not to delay and to pass the bill this session.