Threatened by the effects of climate change, overfishing, and habitat loss, seabird populations around the world have declined by 70 percent since 1950. Seabirds rely on small, schooling fish known as forage fish to eat and to feed their chicks. However, marine forage fish are not protected by federal fisheries management, leaving them vulnerable to overfishing. A new bill will change that and help seabird populations rebound.
Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Ed Case (D-HI) just introduced the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act, which strengthens the Magnuson-Stevens Act, our nation’s primary federal fisheries law. Since the 1970s, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has helped fisheries managers recover 45 fish species populations and ensured that overfishing remains at an all-time low. By ensuring our fisheries are more sustainable, the law has benefited fishermen, fishing communities, recreational and ecotourism industries, and the seabirds and other wildlife that rely on healthy fish populations. Though we celebrate its success, this law doesn’t factor the important role that forage fish, like herring and shad, play in the ocean. It’s time for that to change.
This new bill adds more specific provisions that protect seabirds, which rely on healthy stocks of forage fish and coastal habitats. For the first time in its 45-year history, the Magnuson-Stevens Act would explicitly define forage fish and account for the needs of seabirds and other predators when deciding how many forage fish can be caught. It will also factor climate change into our fisheries management process and strengthen protections for coastal habitats like seagrasses and marshes that serve as nurseries and feeding grounds for fish, as well as birds.