Apr 10 2019

Mast, Dingell Introduce Forage Fish Conservation Act to Protect Marine Ecosystem and Fishing Economy

Bipartisan Bill Strengthens Key Protections For Fisheries and Promotes Responsible Management of Forage Fish

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Brian Mast (FL-18) and Debbie Dingell (MI-12) today introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen key protections for fisheries and promote responsible management of forage fish. The Forage Fish Conservation Act legislation improves protections for forage fish, prey for other recreationally and commercially important species such as tuna, salmon, and cod. These populations have declined substantially due to human activity and threaten the viability of marine ecosystems, as well as opportunities for recreational fisherman. Currently, there are few management measures in place to address this decline.

“On the Treasure Coast we know firsthand how irresponsible management of our marine ecosystem can have devastating ripple effects on our environment, food supply, fishing industry and overall economy,” Rep. Mast said. “This is important and bipartisan sustainability legislation that will help protect our coastal health, environment and economy.”

“Declining fish stocks threaten both the larger marine ecosystem and the coastal economies that rely on them,” Rep. Dingell said. “This legislation addresses a key need by implementing robust, science-based management practices for forage fish to promote sustainable fisheries and safeguard our environmental heritage for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The Forage Fish Conservation Act builds upon the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary federal law governing marine fisheries management. To ensure that enough forage fish remain in the water, the Act:

  • Provides a national, 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.

Numerous sporting, conservation and environmental groups expressed support for the legislation:

“The American Sportfishing Association is grateful to Rep. Dingell for her leadership on forage fish conservation,” Mike Leonard, vice president of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association, said. “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.”

“We know that small fish have a big impact in our ocean food webs. That’s why a strategy to ensure smart, science-based management of forage fish species is so important to overall ocean health and sustainable fisheries,” Jessie Ritter, Director of Water Resources and Coastal Policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said. “NWF is grateful to Congresswoman Dingell and Congressman Mast for their leadership on this legislation, which will help ensure that forage fish populations not only survive, but thrive in their dynamic marine ecosystems.”

“Seabirds are in trouble. One of the main threats they face is the growing competition for a dwindling food supply, and that is the problem this legislation will help solve,” Karen Hyun, National Audubon Society’s Vice President of Coastal Conservation, said. “Conserving forage fish ensures seabirds have more food to eat, which is a huge step towards reversing the 70 percent decline we have seen in their populations. I applaud Congresswomen Dingell and Congressman Mast’s efforts to protect seabirds and the rest of our marine ecosystem, and Audubon will do everything we can to help make it law.”

“This legislation uses sound science to preserve our nation’s fishing economy,” Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said. “Declining populations of forage fish hurt the entire marine ecosystem and sportfishing opportunities. This bill will help prevent overfishing and create sustainable fisheries. We appreciate Representative Dingell working with a broad coalition to advance conservation efforts across the country.”

The Forage Fish Conservation Act is also cosponsored by Representatives Matt Cartwright (PA-8), Fred Upton (MI-6), and Billy Long (MO-7).