Hope On the Horizon for Saltwater Fisheries

Report shows fish populations up in several key areas.

More than 70 ocean fisheries are marking a strong comeback,according to an annual scorecard by a U.S. Commerce Departmentagency on the status of nearly 1,000 fisheries primarily taken ascommercial harvest.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Status ofU.S. Fisheries Report to Congress for 2002 shows that soundconservation and management can turn the tide on overfishing andultimately its impact on one of America's fastest growing outdoorpastimes, recreational fishing in saltwater.

"We've only had strong marine fisheries policies in place forless than a decade," said Mike Nussman, President and CEO of theAmerican Sportfishing Association, "but we're starting to see thepotential of well implemented management programs, which bodes wellfor the saltwater fishing experience and the overall health of ouroceans."

Although some fish stocks remain in "overfished" status, theoverall trend in recovery for many fisheries continues to bepositive. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationreports that 70 overfished species show significant progress underspecial management plans designed to rebuild their populations tohealthy levels. Over the last 5 years, 20 species have been removedfrom the overfished list and are steadily improving, and the trendtoward overfishing has been reversed for 25 species. The fullreport is available on www.nmfs.noaa.gov.

Since 1997, popular sportfish that are also commerciallyharvested, such as redfish, king mackerel, bluefish, and summerflounder, are showing good signs of recovery. The status of others,such as Gulf of Mexico gag grouper, remain a concern to thesportfishing community due to their unsteady recovery.

The American Sportfishing Association is working with acoalition of industry, conservation, and angler advocacy groups topush for stronger representation for recreational fishing interestswithin the Commerce Department and on regional councils andinterstate commissions that oversee cooperative marine fisheriesmanagement. The coalition advocates for more consideration for thesocial and economic values of recreational fishing when managementpriorities are made.

The landmark Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 marked amilestone for ocean fisheries management and called for regionalfishery management councils to halt overfishing. The eight regionalcouncils and three interstate fishery commissions, includingrepresentatives from states, tribes, recreational and commercialfishing interests, and academia, develop species-specificmanagement plans, with 70 plans now in place.