Many of the world's fisheries are in decline. This has led to the creation of both national and international conservation laws to protect them and the ecosystems they inhabit, ensuring that they will be around for generations to come.
Fisheries Are in Trouble
Fish are not only delicious to eat, they're also very healthy. Millions of people all over the world depend on this important protein source, but due to a variety of issues, such as habitat degradation, climate change, and an increase in consumption, both fisheries and the ecosystems they inhabit are in trouble.
Overfishing, which is when more fish are caught than can be replaced naturally by the population, has serious consequences for both fish stocks and the environment. Unfortunately, it's estimated that at least 80% of the world's monitored fisheries are either fully or overexploited. This means that these fisheries are being fished above a sustainable level and are at risk of disappearing forever.
Reversing this trend is challenging for a number of reasons. It's easy to see the damage done by clear-cutting a forest, but we rarely see the effects of fishing gear, like bottom trawls, which essentially have the same impact on the sea floor. There's also a common misconception that because the oceans are so large and deep that there is a never-ending supply from which we can harvest. Additionally, much of the vast ocean waters do not fall in the legal jurisdiction of any one country, making regulation an international cooperation issue.
The good news is that many problems associated with overfishing, such as food web disruption, destruction of the physical environment, and fishery collapse, have been recognized, and there are now many national and international laws in place to help stop overfishing, as well as curb the damage it causes. Let's look a little more closely at some of the major international laws and treaties in place to protect fisheries and aquatic ecosystems.
1982 - UNCLOS
One of the most important international laws for aquatic systems is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. This convention sets a comprehensive legal framework to regulate the space, uses, and resources of the world's oceans, which includes fisheries, marine mammals, and even aquatic plants.
UNCLOS provides protection for marine environments, provisions regarding legal boundaries within the oceans, and maintains traditional regulations for ocean uses while also introducing modern regulations as new issues arise. This convention was monumental because it extended international laws to the oceans and the ecosystems and organisms that inhabit them, making conservation an international responsibility.
1973 - CITES & MARPOL
You've likely heard of the Endangered Species Act, which is the defining law in the U.S. for protecting animals from extinction. You can think of CITES, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, as the international version of this because its aim is to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of animals and plants in the wild.
CITES was signed into law in 1973 and is very important for fisheries because many fish and other marine species migrate incredible distances and cross national boundaries. These species are often traded internationally, meaning that in order to conserve them, international cooperation among multiple nations is required. CITES sets the stage for regulation of this international trade, helping to ensure their survival.
Another important law of 1973 is MARPOL, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships. The acronym comes from the combination of the two words 'Marine Pollution' and is designed to minimize ocean pollution from ships, such as oil and exhaust, dumping, and any other intentional or accidental source of ocean pollution. Pollution is a major factor in the loss of fish and fish habitats, so minimizing the effects of ocean pollution is helpful in maintaining sustainable fisheries and aquatic ecosystems.
The '70s were a golden decade for environmental regulation, both internationally and in the United States. The Marine Mammal Protection Act, or MMPA, was enacted in 1972 to protect marine mammals from human activities. This law banned any capture, killing, hunting, or harming of marine mammals, as well as the importation of any marine mammals or their products.
Commercial fishing gear is a major player in the death and injury of marine mammals. Because of this, the MMPA requires commercial fisheries to take steps to reduce their effects on marine mammal species to what are called 'insignificant levels.' Heard of dolphin-safe tuna? That's just one way this law has influenced fisheries to be more mindful and sustainable.
1972 also saw the enactment of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, or NMSA. This law designates critical marine environments as sanctuaries, based on their environmental, cultural, or historical significance. Thirteen sanctuaries currently exist in the National Marine Sanctuary System, and these sanctuaries are also part of the over 1,700 U.S. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MPAs are protected for conservation purposes and include not only sanctuaries, but also places like National Estuarine Research Reserves, national wildlife refuges, and national parks.
1976 saw the enactment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, also known as The Magnuson-Stevens Act. This act was designed to provide conservation and management of U.S. fish populations. It established eight regional fisheries management councils across the country, each of which develops management plans for its fisheries and establishes guidelines, such as catch quotas, gear restrictions, and bycatch limits.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act has been reauthorized numerous times, each time with changes to modernize the act. It was most recently reauthorized in 2006, at which time significant changes included a call to end overfishing of all U.S. fisheries by the year 2010, as well as increases in scientific input and data into regional fishery management plans.
We could go on for a while about fisheries and environmental protection laws, but hopefully this short introduction gives you an idea of what major laws currently exist and why. These laws are beneficial for both U.S. and international fisheries and ocean environments, but enforcement is not always easy since it requires cooperation among different countries and organizations. However, as we continue to learn more and make conservation-minded changes, we can continue to work toward more sustainable fisheries and habitat management.
Fishing is an important industry all over the world because it provides a healthy source of food for millions of people. But because the oceans do not contain an endless supply, it's also important to properly manage global fish stocks and protect ocean habitats.
While international regulation is difficult, there are several laws in place that aim to conserve and protect both fish and aquatic habitats. Many of these came about in the 1970s, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, and The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, or MARPOL.
The U.S. also created several fisheries and environmentally related laws during this same time period, and which are still in place today. These include laws such as The Marine Mammal Protection Act, or MMPA, The National Marine Sanctuaries Act, or NMSA, and The Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Upon completion of this video, you should be able to:
- Explain some of the problems associated with overfishing
- Recall what UNCLOS is
- Describe the history of CITES and what it does
- Consider the importance of MARPOL
- List some of the US laws on environmental regulation