At the end of last month, Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen key protections for fisheries and promote responsible management of forage fish. The Forage Fish Conservation Act of 2021 improves protections for forage fish – including herring and shad – that support marine ecosystems as well as other recreationally and commercially important species such as tuna, salmon, striped bass and cod. These populations have experienced substantial decline because of human activity, which threatens the viability of marine ecosystems as well as opportunities for recreational fishermen. Currently, there are few management measures in place to address this decline.
“Safeguarding fish stocks from further decline is critical to protecting the marine ecosystem and strengthening coastal economies,” said Dingell. “This legislation’s science-based conservation framework for forage fish will both help promote sustainable fisheries and preserve marine wildlife for the enjoyment of future generations.”
“Responsible management of our marine ecosystems is crucial not just for the health of our environment, but for the wellbeing of our coastal economies,” Mast said. “I appreciate Congresswoman Dingell for her leadership on this legislation and look forward to seeing it signed into law.”
“Conserving forage fish is already bringing positive changes – such as the reappearance of whales off of Manhattan – in marine ecosystems around the country,” said Joseph Gordon, project director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ initiative on conserving marine life in the United States. “This bipartisan bill builds on these successes and follows the latest science on how best to manage fish at the bottom of the food web. Coastal communities, businesses that depend on healthy ecosystems, and all those who support restoring marine life have much to gain from abundant prey fish along our coasts.”
“The American Sportfishing Association is grateful to Rep. Dingell for her leadership on forage fish conservation,” said Mike Leonard, Vice President of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “In addition to all the Michiganders who travel to the coasts to go fishing, the state is home to many businesses who make fishing equipment used in saltwater. This legislation, which establishes a framework for ensuring forage fish are not over-exploited, is critical for all those who depend on healthy marine resources.”
“This bill prioritizes management strategies to preserve our nation’s fishing economy,” said Whit Fosburgh, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportfishing depends on healthy forage fish populations, who serve as prey for species like striped bass, speckled trout and tuna. This bill will use science-based strategies to address forage fish management gaps to help maintain sustainable populations. We appreciate Representative Dingell working with a broad coalition to advance conservation efforts and healthier ecosystems across the country.”
“As our ocean ecosystems confront the stressors of climate change, it is more critical than ever that marine food webs have a strong foundation,” said Jessie Ritter, Senior Director of Water Resources and Coastal Policy. “Managing forage fisheries in a manner that accounts for the dietary needs of fish and wildlife farther up the food chain is common sense for ensuring the long-term sustainability of wildlife and the fisheries and coastal economies that rely on these resources. We thank Congresswoman Dingell for continuing to champion protections for fish and wildlife and ensuring a future where our marine ecosystems can thrive.”
The Forage Fish Conservation Act builds upon the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary federal law governing marine fisheries management. To improve the conservation of forage fish and strengthen the marine ecosystem, the legislation:
- Requires the Secretary of Commerce develop a science-based definition for forage fish in federal waters;
- Assesses the impact a new commercial forage fish fishery could have on existing fisheries, fishing communities, and the marine ecosystem prior to the fishery being authorized;
- Account for predator needs in existing management plans for forage fish;
- Specifies that managers consider forage fish when establishing research priorities;
- Ensures scientific advice sought by fishery managers includes recommendations for forage fish;
- Conserves and manages river herring and shad in the ocean; and
- Preserve state management of forage fish fisheries that occur within their jurisdiction.
In addition to Dingell and Mast, The Forage Fish Conservation Act is cosponsored by Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Billy Long (R-MO), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Fred Upton (R-MI), Ed Case (D-HI), Tom Rice (R-SC), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Richard Hudson (R-NC), Austin Scott (R-GA), and Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA).