Friday May 12, 2023


Commercial fishing employs 1.2 million Americans and generates more than $165 billion annually. Yet warming waters are threatening fish populations and disrupting fisheries around the world—a challenge set to worsen as climate change advances.

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. The holdup? Some blame the policy for being too stringent and leading to what they call “underfishing,” while others argue the policy is not doing enough to rebuild depleted fish populations. Others go so far as to argue that fish populations would have rebounded without any policy.

A pair of studies finds these concerns to be largely unsubstantiated. In analyzing the policy’s impact on fish populations, fishing, and industry revenue, they find that it is working essentially as it should. It is rebuilding fish populations, and in most cases it is not unduly holding back fishers from making their catch.

“Many people talk about the need to manage our resources sustainably,” says Eyal Frank, a lead author of the studies and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. “Too often, this becomes just talk with little evidence that our policies are making a difference. Our studies provide that evidence. Our fishing policy is working, and that is very encouraging news at a time when sustaining our fisheries couldn’t be more vital.”

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