Opinion: Why not first ask: 'Is it working?'

As Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the rebuilding provision of that law has—again—become a lightning rod.
 
The rebuilding provision, which Congress incorporated into the law by Congress in the 1996 reauthorization, mandates that overfished fisheries be rebuilt to healthy levels in a time period “as short as possible… not [to]exceed 10 years except in cases where the biology of the stock of fish, other environmental conditions, or management measures under an international agreement in which the United States participates dictate otherwise” (Section 304(c)(4)).
 
There is much debate about whether the provision is flexible enough (despite the clearly stated exceptions).   And last Friday, Representative Doc Hastings introduced a bill that would severely weaken the provision.
 
Curiously little attention has been focused on the primary question: Is it working?
 
In a recently released paper, we (Kimberly Lai-Oremus, Brad Sewell and I) gathered data from every regional fishery management council and conducted the first statistical examination of this question. In this study, we asked whether the implementation of the rebuilding requirement was associated with a rebound in depleted fish populations. The analysis shows compelling evidence that it was.
 
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