Stop the "Empty Oceans" Act

The House of Representatives will begin advancing legislation (H.R. 4742) this week that would undermine the progress we've made in sustainable fisheries management.

In recent years, the United States has made significant progress on preventing overfishing (catching fish faster than they can reproduce), rebuilding depleted fish populations, and ensuring that science is the basis of fishery management decisions. Although 72 populations were subject to overfishing in 2000, only 28 are today, and 34 depleted populations—including South Atlantic black sea bass and Pacific lingcod—have been rebuilt to healthy levels over the past 14 years. This progress would not have been possible without a strong Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary law governing U.S. ocean fish. Today, that law is under attack, and we’re in danger of losing these hard-earned gains and sacrificing the long-term sustainability of our fish populations.

This new proposal might as well be called the “Empty Oceans” Act—it would take us back to policies that led to collapsing fish populations in the 1980s and 1990s, eliminate the establishment of science-based fishing catch limits for many important fish, and put off the critical work of making our fisheries sustainable. We’ve come too far to go back now.

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources will vote on a bill this Thursday, so please contact your member of Congress who is on the committee today and tell them to oppose the “Empty Oceans” Act.
Dear [Member of Congress],

I am deeply concerned about legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens fisheries conservation law (H.R. 4742) being advanced by Representative Doc Hastings that would jeopardize the health of our oceans and fisheries. In recent years, the United States has made great progress in ending and preventing overfishing, as well as rebuilding depleted fish populations. We now have one of the best science-based fisheries management systems in the world, but Rep. Hastings’ proposal would take us back to policies that led to the overfishing problems we had in the 1980s and 1990s. It could allow overfishing on already depleted populations, add huge loopholes that would make it difficult to rebuild fish populations to sustainable levels, eliminate science-based fishing catch limits for many fish important to the ocean food web, and restrict the public’s access to fishery data—including information collected with taxpayer dollars.

[Your comment will go here]

The old policies that were common in the 1980s and 1990s didn't work. They resulted in a disregard of scientific advice by managers, overfishing, and damage to our coastal economies and communities. Rather than return to failed policies of the past, we need to move forward and help ensure abundant fish populations for future generations. The way forward includes protecting ocean habitats, avoiding wasteful bycatch (the incidental catch of nontarget ocean wildlife), improving management of the small fish that are critical to the ocean food web, and broadening the scope of management to better deal with the challenges facing ocean ecosystems.

I urge you to reject Rep. Hastings' legislation (H.R. 4742) for significantly weakening our nation’s fishery management law. Instead, I ask that you promote measures that build on the bipartisan success of the existing law and support healthy fish populations, coastal ecosystems, and local economies.

[Your name]
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