U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to modernize outdated regulations governing commercial fishing along the Atlantic Coast. Even with fish locations changing drastically in response to warming ocean temperatures, the restrictions on species and the number of fish caught in Atlantic waters have not been updated in decades. 

According to the release, commercial fishermen have been forced to travel further distances to access fish populations and are often forced to throw landings back, which results in higher mortality rates. The Supporting Healthy Interstate Fisheries in Transition Act (SHIFT) will require the Department of Commerce to consider changing geographic ranges of fish populations as it oversees federal fishery management plans and quota allocations for Atlantic states.

Senator Murphy of Connecticut has focused on job creation within his state, and in May 2023, he was a proponent of increasing federal and state spending on the cleanup of Long Island Sound to help restore commercial and recreational fishing in the state. Murphy also helped increase federal funding for aquaculture to $19 million in 2023.

“As ocean temperatures keep getting warmer, fish up and down the coast are migrating north. This makes business a lot harder for Connecticut fishermen. We should be doing everything possible to help fishermen adapt to our changing climate, and this legislation would update totally outdated policies that hurt our state,” said Murphy.

Early in Senator Blumenthal’s career, he focused on environmental pollution. In 2021, Blumenthal, along with other members of the Senate, introduced the Forage Fish Conservation Act to protect forage fish. Fish such as herring, anchovies, menhaden, and other oily bait fish are considered forage fish and are essential food sources for larger fish and aquatic life. This act amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act to require the Secretary of Commerce to develop a definition of forage fish and improve the conservation and management of these fish species.

“This legislation (SHIFT Act) will help raise the tide for fishing in Connecticut and beyond, boosting the blue economy,” said Blumenthal. “Climate change has drastically altered our oceans, forcing some fishermen to travel hundreds of miles to reach their quotes or to toss valuable fish overboard. The SHIFT Act will ensure that evolving climate conditions are prioritized in fishery management, helping local fishermen, the economy, and fish populations.”

The SHIFT Act will require the Secretary of Commerce to encourage the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to account for the impact of climate change on the current distribution of fish populations when deciding fishing quote allocations. It will also amend the existing Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to improve other areas of fishery operations, including sustainability. Lastly, the legislation will call for a regular review of fisheries, ensuring their resilience for years.

Many organizations endorsed the Shift Act, including Oceana, Pew Charitable Trusts, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, Ocean Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Audubon Society, and American Saltwater Guides Association.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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