Magnuson not a weapon to use against fishing communities!

I wrote the column below over six years ago. Since then we have gone through two demonstrations in Washington, DC that were enthusiastically supported by recreational, party/charter and commercial fishermen. Thousands of fishermen finally realized that, regardless of disagreements about allocation, we had far more in common than not and that the only way that we were ever going to change the federal management system is by working together (I’ll add here that a subtext of what has become an ongoing dialog deals with the fact that, given higher catch levels and more flexible management, many of our allocation difficulties might simply evaporate.)

Have we been successful? Not hardly, unless the fact that some fishermen are still fishing, and some fishing dependent businesses are still in business is viewed as success.

The chart below shows total commercial landings on the US Atlantic Coast from 1950 to 2012 (I excluded menhaden, a fishery which is so large that its inclusion would have distorted what’s happening with our other commercial fisheries).


Needless to say, those supposed rewards of increased harvests when the stocks “rebounded” thanks to the fishermen’s sacrifices haven’t yet appeared, even though most of our stocks are in better shape than they have been in for decades – and those that aren’t are in “bad” shape because warmer sea temperatures have caused them to seek more hospitable areas to the north.

And if you suspect that the slight uptick starting in 2008 or so is indicative of a general trend, bear in mind that the landings have only been reported up until 2012. This was before some pretty significant cuts were (once again) inflicted on the New England groundfish fleet.

As anyone who is reading this can attest, it’s no different for the recreational fisheries.

We didn’t get done what needed to be done in Washington in 2010 or 2012. But things might be looking up. Congressman “Doc” Hastings, Chairman of the House Resources Committee, has been circulating a draft Magnuson Reauthorization package that addresses some of the most egregious outrages that have been inflicted on fishermen by the anti-fishing ENGOs and the handful of fishing industry “leaders” who have joined their camp, and journalists in the popular press, at least those who haven’t partaken fully of the blame-it-all-on-fishing Kool Aid, are starting to look behind the Pew/Oceana media blitzes. For a great example, see John Lee’s Time to rethink fisheries management in The Providence Business News.

It’s going to take a significant and focused effort to turn the Magnuson Act back to the supportive legislation it once was, with meaningful roles in federal fisheries management by scientists, managers and fishermen, with research that is equal to the tasks that it is expected to perform, and with safeguards in place that protect both the fish and the fishermen.

Crowd and Capitol

It can happen, but don’t believe it’s going to happen without your support and your participation. Find out who the appropriate staffers are in your Senators’ and Congressperson’s office and let them know what you need as a fisherman, or as someone who owns or is employed in a fishing dependent business. Let them know that the federal fisheries management system was never designed to protect the wellbeing of the fish while totally ignoring the wellbeing of the fishermen. That’s where we’ve been for most of two decades, and look where it’s gotten us. It’s time to stop Magnuson from being a weapon against fishing communities!Nils Stolpe

(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – – on December 8, 2009)

A reduction in sea scallop landings of thirty percent. A total closure of the Gulf of Mexico recreational amberjack fishery. A reduction in spiny dogfish landings of twenty-five percent. A total seasonal closure of the recreational sea bass fishery in the Northeast. A total closure of the red snapper fishery in federal waters from Florida to North Carolina. Recreational summer flounder restrictions that have decimated the for-hire fleet. Massive West coast rockfish closures based on less than adequate science. A looming lobster bait crisis stemming from a massive though biologically unnecessary reduction in herring landings. One hundred and thirty thousand tons of uncaught groundfish TAC. A labyrinth of MPAs off California established wherever catchable fish are found. And the list could go on and on.

These are either proposed, recently instituted or ongoing management initiatives — initiatives being imposed on fishermen who are looking at fisheries that are healthier today than they have been in decades. In total they are going to cost commercial and recreational fishermen, the businesses that depend on them and fishing communities in every coastal state billions of dollars. The pending sea scallop cutback alone is estimated by industry experts to come with a quarter of a billion dollar price tag and the cost of the red snapper closure will undoubtedly be in the tens of millions. All of those uncaught Northeast groundfish, if caught, would have pumped a billion dollars into the fishing communities in New England.

Those fishermen have been laboring – and suffering – under severe management restrictions for those decades with the understanding that the sacrifices they would make today would be more than justified by the rewards they would reap in the future. Well, judging by the status of the stocks, the future is finally here, but judging by the foregoing list of management actions the rewards definitely aren’t.

Are you starting to detect a subtle trend here, or perhaps one that’s not so subtle?

The Magnuson Act, when passed by Congress in 1976, broke new ground when it established that managing our nation’s fisheries was to be accomplished jointly by scientists, resource managers and resource users – fishermen. It was intended as a tool to enable U.S. fishermen to more effectively utilize those fisheries, something that it was effective — in instances too effective — at doing.

Needless to say, there were teething pains. It’s hard to imagine a new management system that would work from the beginning, and this one didn’t. In the beginning there was a “catch ‘em all” attitude that was probably due more to the Cold War than to fisheries management concerns. Then, starting in 1981, an ill-advised “economic recovery” program by the Reagan administration brought far too much fishing capacity to the domestic fleet than was necessary. Shortly afterwards, in 1984, the World Court awarded much of the New England fleet’s fishing grounds to Canada. Obviously, in the first decade or so of Magnuson management, some fisheries suffered, but external factors were much more responsible than anything intrinsic to the fishing industry or to the management process itself.

But, using these early stumbling blocks as the reason, over the intervening three decades fishermen have been gradually dealt out of the Magnuson process, the scientists have been put in charge, and as the list of closures and restrictions up above painfully demonstrates, the Act has been turned into a weapon that is now being used against fishermen and fishing communities.

How has this been accomplished? Through a well-orchestrated campaign based on what has come to be known in the world of propaganda as The Big Lie – a lie so outrageous and repeated so often that the people will eventually accept it as the truth.

In this case The Big Lie is that fishermen are inherently incapable of sustainably managing the fisheries they participate in. The sole basis of this theory is The Tragedy of the Commons, an article published in the journal Science by an ecologist, Garrett Hardin, in 1968. Hardin’s article describes the dilemma of hypothetical herders sharing a hypothetical plot of land in medieval Europe. It’s been used and is still being used as proof positive that fishermen are incapable of rationally harvesting fish that “belong to everybody.” Hardin is reputed to have said later that his article might better have been titled “The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons,” which has no bearing at all to today’s over-regulated fisheries. This obvious fact is understandably ignored by the foundation-funded anti-fishing activists in their so far successful campaign to marginalize fishermen in the management process. (Note that this year’s Nobel Laureate, Elinor Ostrom, convincingly – at least to the Nobel selection committee – argues that Hardin’s “tragedy,” though applicable in limited situations, suffers from over-application.)

So with the fishermen on the way out, or at least the independent fishermen who don’t kow-tow to Silver Spring or the anti-fishing clique, who’s taking up the slack in the fisheries management process? That would be the scientists that work for NMFS and those on each regional management council’s Science and Statistics Committee. At this point they’re in charge, and their statistics and their computer models, no matter how imprecise, based on their samples, no matter how meager, and their budgets, no matter how inadequate, are what’s determining what we can and can’t (emphasis on the latter, of course) catch. And don’t forget that extra 20 or 30 or 40% “off the top” that is used to make up for the uncertainty of their science.

Those imprecise statistics, meager samples and inadequate budgets are exactly why Congress decided over 30 years ago that fishermen and resource managers should have a major say in fisheries management. The experience and observations of the fisherman, and the concern of the managers for the resource users as well as the resource were put there to balance the narrow input of the scientists.

But, thanks to the last two Magnuson reauthorizations, and to what it’s impossible for me to see as anything other than the “let’s get rid of as many fishermen as we can” vibrations emanating from NOAA/NMFS headquarters, that’s no longer the case. The science, no matter how limited, rules and the experience, judgment and concern for the human impacts have become completely irrelevant.

This wasn’t the intention of the Magnuson Act’s authors, it wasn’t the intent of the Congress that passed it, and if they understood how purposefully fallacious this particular Big Lie is and the full extent of the damage it has unnecessarily caused and continues to cause in every fishing community in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine any of our elected officials allowing it to continue. But as we are all too well aware, continue it does.

 So what do we do to fix this mess? First off, the members of every aggrieved recreational or commercial fishery, and name more than one or two in the lower 48 that aren’t, have to realize that the most serious of their problems begin and end with the purposely mutated monster that Magnuson has become. Then, as members of that fishery, they have to make the demand that Magnuson be returned to its former state, once again with the balance for the inadequate science provided by the judgment of fishermen (nominated and approved by their peers, not forced on the system by the palace guard in Silver Spring) and resource managers. And finally they – but at this point it’s we – have to set aside our differences and come together, along with all of the associated businesses and organizations and individuals that have a stake in viable fisheries, in the effective lobbying power that we should be, and start to get the job done.

This is a process that’s already started, both in Congress and with a number of fishing organizations. But it’s not going to succeed without your support and your participation. You can start off by demanding that your reps in Washington join Congressman Barney Frank’s East Coast congressional caucus, which he plans on starting within two weeks to organize “an uphill battle against environmental forces to create a more equal balance between the reconstruction of fish stocks and community interests.” And there are other, industry-focused efforts in the works as well. Do everything you can to get them and keep them going. I’ll keep you posted to the extent that I can, but remember that ultimately it’s up to you.

In keeping with the season, they’re your chestnuts and you’re the only one that’s going to get them out of the fire that we’ve allowed to burn for way too long.

Nils Stolpe

The Providence Business News gets it right!

John Lee, a reporter for The Providence Business News, tackles the potentially complex and confusing subject of the impact of increasing ocean temps on fisheries and fisheries management. His article starts out “Fishery management traditionally has focused on fishing pressure, the removal of animals from a population with nets, lines and traps, as the only statistic worth using in the regulatory equation. The rationale is simple, at least in theory: If the landings in a fishery drop, it’s assumed that the population has declined.Everything else that might change a fish stock – all the environmental, ecological or climatic variables that are virtually impossible to quantify with any accuracy – have been addressed as statistical constants in fish-population models.But climate change and its rapid effect on fisheries are forcing scientists and policymakers to rethink the traditional management approach. Suddenly, every fixed point in the equation has to be reconsidered as a network of moving parts.” From there he gets into ecosystem based management and the reactions of both managers and fishermen.

The article is at,96247

and for the layperson is well worth reading, covering territory that is never explored by the blame-it-all-on-fishing claque.

Protecting Marine Biodiversity with ‘New Conservation’

by Ray Hilborn

The debate raging within the conservation community over “new conservation” appears to be essentially a religious war, with doctrinal beliefs well defined and the rancor and defamation appearing to grow each month. In essence, the “new conservation” argues that the major gains in biodiversity protection will be made in human-used environments and by working with communities and industries that use these environments rather than by the use of protected areas (Kareiva and Marvier 2012).

The actual rancor seems to stem more from a philosophical question of whether biodiversity should be conserved for its own sake or because it is valued by humans (Soule 2013) and from criticism of some of the icons of the conservation movement in other writings by Kareiva (Karevia et al. 2011). These debates need to be set aside and the energy of the conservation community needs to be focused on what will work best to protect biodiversity.

Marine conservation, where little energy has been expended until the last few decades, represents the new frontier of conservation. Marine biodiversity is under threat from a range of factors, but I would like to focus on the impacts of fishing on biodiversity, and specifically overfishing of marine species and communities and associated ecosystem changes, mortality of non-target species, and the impacts of fishing gear on habitat.

Fishing by its nature reduces the abundance of target species, changes the age- and size structure,  and can change the trophic structure of marine ecosystems. Non-target species are commonly caught and killed by fishing gear, and this is of particular concern when endangered species or protected species such as turtles, marine mammals and marine birds are concerned. Mobile bottom-contact fishing gear (trawls and dredges) can dramatically modify bottom habitats.

Initiatives using the  “old conservation” of protected areas have been hard at work. It is estimated that marine NGOs funded through U.S. foundations and their own fund raising spend on the order of $300 million per year on marine conservation (California Environmental Associates 2012), with much of that funding directed towards protected areas advocacy. These efforts have led to major successes both in international acceptance of targets for protected areas (the International Convention on Biological Diversity CBD has an agreed target of 10% of the oceans in no-take areas by 2020) and in getting areas protected. Protected area advocates have been particularly successful in the United States and Australia, where large areas of the ocean have been given protection from fishing.

“Perhaps the most striking successes of the ‘new conservation’ have been in the reduction of by-catch of threatened or protected species.”

The “new conservation” has been equally active in the marine space, some of it funded by the same NGOs and foundations. Perhaps most prominent has been the move to seafood certification. The Marine Stewardship Council, an independent NGO initiated by a partnership between industry (Unilever) and an NGO (WWF), has worked with retailers, governments and industry groups to set standards, certify fisheries as well managed and help fisheries move towards meeting the standards.

Many retailers have made commitments to sell only certified seafood within the next few years, and the number of certification schemes is proliferating. Seafood certification is a classic example of the “new conservation” in that partnerships with industry and the conservation movement are altering the behavior of the fishing industry and leading to better biodiversity protection (Gutierrez et al. 2012).

Freshly caught Pacific cod.

Photo: Nick Rahaim/Flickr
Freshly caught Pacific cod.

Perhaps the most striking successes of the “new conservation” have been in the reduction of by-catch of threatened or protected species. Because of political pressures and legal requirements to reduce such by-catch, fishing industries have reduced by-catch of dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific tuna fisheries by 99% (Hall et al. 2000); reduced the by-catch of sea birds in Antarctic longline fisheries by 99% (Cox et al. 2007); the by-catch of turtles in the Hawaii longline fishery by 95% (Moore et al. 2009); and the by-catch of turtles in the SE shrimp trawl fisheries by 94% (Finkbeiner et al. 2011).

Closed areas are a very blunt and not very effective instrument to protect the biodiversity from this kind of by-catch, although closed areas have generally been part of the package. A recent review of by-catch mitigation for three species including a turtle, an albatross and a small cetacean (Senko et al. 2013) concluded: “Time–area closures appeared to be of limited effectiveness for the focal species.” Many have argued for closing biodiversity hot-spots (Worm et al. 2003). But since many of the species of concern are highly mobile, closed areas will have the effect of intensifying fishing effort elsewhere with little real reduction in mortality of these species.

“Protection of marine biodiversity illustrates a range of ways that the new conservation working with industry groups can have far more benefit to biodiversity than traditional protected area approaches.”

But mixed-species fisheries may catch dozens of species in one set of the net, and the sustainable exploitation rate may differ greatly between species. So how to harvest the most productive species and avoid the least productive ones? “Old conservation” strategies would close the areas where the most vulnerable species are typically found; the new conservation provides incentives to fishing vessels to find areas where the target species can be caught and the vulnerable species can be avoided. These latter approaches have been shown to be highly effective when applied (Branch and Hilborn 2008) and are in fact much more effective at reducing the catch of vulnerable species than closed-area strategies.

On the west coast of North America, by-catch limits for a range of species including marine birds, Pacific salmon and Pacific halibut have the potential to close highly valuable fisheries. So fishing industry groups have formed voluntary cooperatives that adopt legally binding agreements on when, where and how to fish, with the only role of government to set total catch limits (DeAlessi et al. 2014). Protected areas would never be able to achieve this kind of control as it requires day-to-day monitoring of catch and small-area closures that are not permanent.

And while protected areas seem to be an ideal solution for keeping sensitive habitats from the ravages of bottom-contact gear, the data suggest that “new conservation” may be a more effective tool for even this problem. For instance, the British Columbia continental shelf is subject to a bottom trawl fishery that tends to fish soft grounds that are not particularly sensitive. The ocean floor there is a patchwork of hard and soft areas, with corals and other sensitive structures scattered at various places along the coast.  Any protected areas approach would require a highly detailed map (which does not exist) of these sensitive features and a very complex patchwork of closed areas.

What does exist, however, is an agreement negotiated between local environmental groups and the British Columbian fishing industry that includes specific closed areas; individual vessel limits on the allowable catch of corals and sponges that provide incentives for fishermen to avoid any place these might be caught; a reporting requirement to broadcast immediately any large catch of corals and sponges to the entire fleet so that these sensitive spots are identified and known; and a consultative process between government, NGOs and industry to monitor and revise these methods.

Longline hooks used to catch black cod and halibut in the Gulf of Alaska.

Photo: Nick Rahaim/Flickr
Longline hooks used to catch black cod and halibut in the Gulf of Alaska.

The protected-area approach in marine conservation has two major disadvantages. The first problem is effort displacement. When an area is closed to fishing, the vessels move elsewhere, adding fishing pressure to some areas that potentially equals or outweighs the benefits seen in the protected areas (Pastoors et al. 2000). Hamilton et al. (2010) found that abundance of target species declined outside reserves and increased inside reserves, yielding no net increase in abundance.

The second biodiversity problem is a reduction in the total sustainable yield of fish stocks when marine reserves are large. This loss will almost certainly be made up by some other form of food production with negative biodiversity consequences (Hilborn 2013). At the extreme, if lost fish production is compensated by cutting rainforest to grow crops or cattle, we can be very sure that the total biodiversity consequences will be negative.

Protection of marine biodiversity illustrates a range of ways that the new conservation working with industry groups can have far more benefit to biodiversity than traditional protected area approaches. A recent review of the implementation of by-catch reduction (Cox et al. 2007) emphasized the importance of collaboration with the fishing industry: “Three common themes to successful implementation of bycatch reduction measures are long-standing collaborations among the fishing industry, scientists, and resource managers; pre- and post-implementation monitoring; and compliance via enforcement and incentives.”

Everyone in the conservation movement is interested in protecting and ideally expanding global biodiversity. Protected areas and cooperative arrangements with extractive users are just two of a range of tools available to achieve this goal. We should focus on how best to achieve biodiversity gains and stop the pointless philosophical debates.


I thank Martin Hall and Ed Melvin for providing some of the examples and general guidance in the area of by-catch avoidance.


Branch, T. A. and R. Hilborn. 2008. Matching catches to quotas in a multispecies trawl fishery: targeting and avoidance behavior under individual transferable quotas. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 68:1435-1446.

California Environmental Associates. 2012. Design for Sustainable Fisheries.

Cox, T. A., R. L. Lewison, R. Zydelis, L. B. Crowder, C. Safina, and A. J. Read. 2007. Comparing effectiveness of experimental and implemented bycatch reduction measures: The ideal and the real. Conservation Biology 21:1155-1164.

DeAlessi, M., J. M. Sullivan, and R. Hilborn. 2014. The legal, regulatory, and institutional evolution of fishing cooperatives in Alaska and the West Coast of the United States. Marine Policy 43:217-225.

Finkbeiner, E. M., B. P. Wallace, J. E. Moore, R. L. Lewison, L. B. Crowder, and A. J. Read. 2011. Cumulative estimates of sea turtle bycatch and mortality in USA fisheries between 1990 and 2007. Biological Conservation 144:2719-2727.

Gutierrez, N. L., S. R. Valencia, T. A. Branch, D. J. Agnew, J. K. Baum, P. L. Bianchi, J. Cornejo-Donoso, C. Costello, O. Defeo, T. E. Essington, R. Hilborn, D. D. Hoggarth, A. E. Larsen, C. Ninnes, K. Sainsbury, R. L. Selden, S. Sistla, A. D. M. Smith, A. Stern-Pirlot, S. J. Teck, J. T. Thorson, and N. E. Williams. 2012. Eco-Label Conveys Reliable Information on Fish Stock Health to Seafood Consumers. PLOS One 7.

Hall, M. A., D. L. Alverson, and K. I. Metuzals. 2000. By-catch: Problems and solutions. Marine Pollution Bulletin 41:204-219.

Hamilton, S. L., J. E. Caselle, D. P. Malone, and M. H. Carr. 2010. Incorporating biogeography into evaluations of the Channel Islands marine reserve network. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107:18272-18277.

Hilborn, R. 2013. Environmental cost of conservation victories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110:9187-9187.

Kareiva, P., R. Lalasz, and M. Marvier. 2011. Conservation in the anthropocene: beyond solitutude and M. Shellenberger and T. Nordhaus, editors. Love your monster: Postenvironmentalism and the  anthropocene. Breakthrough Institute.

Kareiva, P. and M. Marvier. 2012. What Is Conservation Science? BioScience 62:962-969.

Moore, J. E., B. R. Wallace, R. L. Lewison, R. Zydelis, T. M. Cox, and L. B. Crowder. 2009. A review of marine mammal, sea turtle and seabird bycatch in USA fisheries and the role of policy in shaping management. Marine Policy 33:435-451.

Pastoors, M. A., A. D. Rijnsdorp, and F. A. Van Beek. 2000. Effects of a partially closed area in the North Sea (“plaice box”) on stock development of plaice. Ices Journal of Marine Science 57:1014-1022.

Senko, J., E. R. White, S. S. Heppell, and L. R. Gerber. 2013. Comparing bycatch mitigation strategies for vulnerable marine megafauna. Animal Conservation published in early on-line May 2013 DOI: 10.1111/acv.12051.

Soule, M. E. 2013. The “New Conservation.” Conservation Biology 27:895-897.

Worm, B., H. K. Lotze, and R. A. Myers. 2003. Predator diversity hotspots in the blue ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100:9884-9888.


March 31, 2014. The views expressed above are the author’s and should not be taken as those of SNAP or its member organizations.
Originally posted in SNAP.

For a different way of looking at fisheries management….

I have written before about the shortcomings of the “blame it all on fishing” underpinnings of our management system (See Overfished or depleted? at Israeli fisheries consultant Menakhem Ben-Yami has recently published two articles on this subject, A word of warning: West – not always the best (at and How to manage fisheries without replicating Western follies (at, in Infofish International. Infofish, originally created by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in 1981, “since 1987, it is an Intergovernmental Organization providing marketing information and technical advisory services to the fishery industry of the Asia-Pacific region and beyond from its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Fourteen countries are currently members of INFOFISH which are Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Thailand” (from the Infofish Iternational website at

For another perspective on how fisheries should be managed I strongly recommend both articles.

Better Science Means More Fish

I just started doing a column for The Online Fisherman, an up and coming recreational fishing website which is primarily focused on Florida. The people there contacted me about doing a regular column and I quickly agreed. While you might not know it by the actions of some, recreational and commercial fishermen have much more in common than not, and among the things they share are impediments put in place because of inadequate science (note that I don’t meant to imply inadequate scientists), overzealous “conservationists,” and far too many people and organizations willing to pit one sector of fishermen against another to further their own self-serving agendas. The purpose of the column is to shed light on some of these impediments, to demonstrate that there are more effective ways of increasing one sector’s harvest than by taking it from another sector.

The first column is   Better Science Means More Fish and it’s available at

Thanks for your attention,


A view on the Green lobby in fisheries from Scotland/the EU

How the Green lobby is perceived by Kathyrn Stack, Senior Political Advisor to Straun Stevenson, Member of the European Parliament and Senior Vice-President of its Fisheries Committee is at From her column:

“The present day environmental fisheries lobby, a once radical fringe movement, has suddenly sunk their claws firmly into mainstream European politics. They show no signs of moving. Once a well-intentioned operation, it has become a confused and misguided witch-hunt, condemning fishing industry leaders and politicians, armed only with ecopropaganda and anti-science policies. Only 58 of the 766 total MEPs are members of the Green grouping. So how and why, are we allowing the Green lobby to dictate our fisheries policy?


The Green lobby survive on employing apocalyptic, scare-mongering tactics. They disseminate hysterical slogans arguing that the world’s seabed will be ruined forever if we do not impose a blanket ban on all deep sea fishing. They panic politicians that overwhelming numbers of their constituents have signed a petition to ban discards. We are made to believe that there is no time for debate and we must act now. Such impassioned strategies mobilise naïve do-gooders and prompt decision-makers into knee-jerk reactions, without debating the potentially catastrophic consequences. These issues certainly do need our immediate attention but we must act sensibly and legislate appropriately.”


I strongly suggest that you follow the link, read her column and consider how the situation as she sees it on the “other side” compares to what’s been going on over here.


A must read blog (along with Fishosophy, of course!)

The title is Confessions from the Lone Shark Conservationist Who Supports California’s Drift Gillnet Fishery (at and I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing the first paragraphs below:



Preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience.


I admit I used to be prejudiced towards gillnet fisheries. I used to believe that all gillnet fisheries should be shut down, period. In my defense, all I knew of gillnets were the injuries that they can cause. During my time as a volunteer for the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center from 2007-2011, I personally rescued over 20 sea lions with gillnet entanglements. Although 100% of these animals were eventually released alive, the sights and smells of those injuries throughout the rehabilitation process still haunt me to this day. I didn’t understand why gillnet fisheries still existed and I was hungry to learn more. And thus began my incredibly humbling journey to learn more about California’s set and drift gillnet fisheries which target swordfish, thresher sharks, halibut and white seabass.


I’m telling my story for a couple reasons. First because I know a lot of folks share my intense passion and genuine intention to help preserve our world’s oceans, but like me are not very sure where and how to start. I want to share some lessons I learned the hard way in an effort to prevent you from wasting your time. I’m also writing this because I think it’s scary how easy it is for someone that knows very little about shark fisheries to be considered an “expert” on the subject with the power to influence other like-minded conservationists. And finally, I want to show how it’s possible (and quite necessary) for shark conservationists to understand and support responsible shark fishing. This is contrary to popular belief for most so if you disagree I urge you to read on. The only problem is that my story is so complicated that I split it into two parts so please stay with me.


The blogger is Jonathan Gonzalez, a graphic designer with a solid and obvious commitment to ocean conservation. What separates him from the crowd, and what brought his blog to my attention, was his unwillingness to accept at face value the myriad of commonly held “truths” of marine conservation and his willingness to devote himself to researching what’s really going on in our oceans and in our fisheries.

Five minutes invested in reading the “about me” page on his website ( will tell you all you need to know about his bona fides as a committed marine conservationist, and Part 1 and Part 2 of his Confessions will provide you with an inkling of the research/learning process that he went through when he realized the human dimensions of the “save the sharks” campaign he was involved in. Quoting from his blog once again:

The chef asked me, “So you say I can’t serve this thresher shark meat because it’s not sustainable, but you say it’s OK to serve this halibut that was caught it the same net as the sharks? I don’t get it.” I didn’t get it either. I don’t remember what I told the chef after that, but I said enough for him to remove local thresher shark from his menu. What I do remember is walking away feeling very dirty. For the first time I asked myself, “What the hell am I doing?” “ How did I get here?” “Am I really doing the right thing?” This gut check was another life-changing moment.

I can’t recommend too highly his blog or his personal website, Organic Creativity, at His description of the learning process he went through is invaluable and should be mandatory reading for anyone who has bought hook, line and sinker into marine conservation campaigns without considering their human impacts or the degree to which they are based on facts.

Nils Stolpe

Keynote Address on Rewriting the Magnuson-Stevens Act at the 2013 Pacific Marine Expo, Seattle, Washington

Brain Rothschild, Executive Director
Center for Sustainable Fisheries, New Bedford MA

The Magnuson-Stevens Act (“MSA” or “Act”) is up for reauthorization in 2014 and the opportunity to fix what is broken and improve what has not worked well should not be missed. At many governmental hearings and public meetings, it is said that all we need to improve the MSA is “flexibility.” Words like “flexibility” mean different things to different people, and such a cursory debate will not produce a functioning law for the complex issues that we face in this early part of the 21st Century.

Brian Rothschild blogs for AFS and AIFRB on FishosophyWhile various interests may recommend different means of improvement, there is widespread agreement that in certain key areas, the MSA as interpreted and implemented falls short of our Nation’s needs. These key areas include an inability to develop accurate and timely science regarding both fish and people and to use that science to benefit both when and where it is needed. In this paper, which is intended as an introduction of a series examining in more detail suggested modifications to the MSA, major issues are laid out. Identification of the major issues are from working in the field of fisheries management science and from hearing over time the concerns of fishermen, fisheries scientists, community leaders, lawyers, and many others. This can be done by focusing on two main principles. First, the MSA’s language must be rewritten to strengthen the scientific basis for all conservation and management measures, including not only the biological (fishery related), but the much neglected socio-economic (people related) sciences. Second, balancing all ten National Standards to reflect an appropriate symbiotic focus, rather than a focus that has narrowed over the years to a preoccupation with only one concern: “overfishing.” Rewriting the National Standards to ensure these goals are consistent with the intent of the MSA and its predecessor legislation and has the potential to bring greater balance and scientific justification to fisheries management.

Mere reauthorization without thoughtful changes to achieve these goals will fail to achieve balance in fisheries management and endanger the sustainment of our Nation’s fisheries resources. Thoughtful change requires that the MSA be rewritten.

Full text at

Fishosophy: Overfished or Depleted?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

(William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II)

Contrary to what might have been true when Shakespeare had Juliet speak those words in the 1590s, how things are called is far from meaningless today. This is particularly so due to the increasingly pervasive and influential social media driven by sound bite journalism, text messages maxing out at 255 characters and Tweets at 140. When so much of contemporary communication and contemporary thought is dependent on so few words, those words, their exact meaning and their precise use have become critically important.
This is a photo of the totoaba or totuava (Totoaba macdonaldi) is a marine fish of the drum family (Sciaenidae) that is indigenous to the northern half of the Gulf of California
Thus it was with great relief that I saw that one of the amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson Act) offered by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings deals with one of the most prejudicial examples of misnaming that has Continue reading