According to the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA), the primary legislation governing U.S. fisheries, regional fishery management councils must develop a rebuilding plan for every overfished fishery, and must “specify a time period for rebuilding … that shall be as short as possible … and not exceed 10 years.” In other words, if a species of fish is deemed overfished, a plan must be implemented to rebuild the fishery within 10 years.
While this may seem reasonable to the casual observer, nothing could be further from the truth. No scientific analysis at all was involved in choosing a period of 10 years; the requirement was an arbitrary political decision. In fact, according to the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council, there are no scientific grounds for justifying any length of time as a standard for a fish stock rebuilding time.
Factors contributing to this conclusion by the NRC are numerous. Ecological and environmental conditions weigh into the skepticism, along with uncertainties surrounding fish population projections. Of particular concern is the very basis for rebuilding itself.
To require fish stocks to rebuild within a fixed timeframe of 10 years, while the target they must reach is itself unfixed, not to mention uncertain, is unrealistic. In plain language, the MSA as it is written today mandates that stock projections hit a moving target that cannot be defined within a defined period.
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