Leon Panetta Honors America’s Fishing Heritage: Independent Ocean Commission Seeks Sustainable Future for America’s Oldest Industry

Contact: Justin Kenney, Pew Oceans Commission, 703-516-0605

Leon Panetta, chair of the Pew Oceans Commission, traveled to the coastal community of Half Moon Bay, Calif., to honor America’s commercial fishing heritage and release three reports on the state of the fishing industry.

In Managing Marine Fisheries in the United States, 13 distinguished scientists, economists, and fishery experts recommend reforms to existing fishery management, including ways to improve fishery science. A Dialogue on America’s Fisheries includes recommendations from fishermen – as told to commissioners in meetings held from Maine to Alaska – on ways to improve management. Socioeconomic Perspectives on Marine Fisheries in the United States finds that improving fishery management has the potential to more than double current catches, restoring and creating tens of thousands of family wage jobs.

“Fishing is America’s oldest industry and fishing families and fishing communities continue to enrich the social, cultural, and economic heritage of our nation today,” said Leon Panetta. “For thousands of people, fishing is not just a job; it is a way of life.”

The Commission finds that the economic status of the United States commercial fishing industry is declining due to excess competition, declining productivity, and poor management. The result is the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the placement of a natural and cultural heritage at risk. Diverse marine ecosystems have long supported equally diverse fishing operations—from the day-boat lobsterman in Maine to the large offshore Pollock trawls of Alaska, from the crab and oystermen of the Chesapeake Bay to the indigenous salmon fisheries of the West Coast. What we long viewed as an inexhaustible resource is now known to be more vulnerable, and more valuable, than ever before.

The Pew Oceans Commission is conducting the first comprehensive review of U.S. ocean policy in more than 30 years. Leaders from the worlds of science, business, conservation, fishing, education, politics, and philanthropy have traveled across the country to consider ways to curb pollution, restore fisheries, manage coastal development, and improve ocean governance. Commissioners have held public hearings across the nation, even traveling to Des Moines to talk about ways to reduce agricultural runoff. The Commission also considered leading scientific information, including a series of science papers prepared for commissioners on such issues as pollution, coastal development, aquaculture, invasive species, and marine reserves.

To assist it in its deliberations on restoring America’s fisheries, the Commission brought together leading scientists and policymakers for a two-day workshop to consider the changes needed to improve federal fishery management since the passage of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (now known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act). The resulting papers contained in Managing Marine Fisheries review the existing legal framework for managing federal fisheries, look at traditional and emerging fishery management tools, challenge the current institutional structures, explores the economics of fishery management, and consider ways to improve fishery science (individual summaries attached).

“Our goal is to restore and maintain marine ecosystems, and preserve our fishing heritage,” said Panetta. “With recommendations for a new national ocean policy forthcoming from the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Congress and the nation have the opportunity to build a better future for the oceans and those who depend on them for their livelihoods.”

The Pew Oceans Commission will present its recommendations for a new national ocean policy to Congress and the Bush administration in early 2003. Information about the Commission, including copies of its science reports and a complete list of members, is available online at www.pewoceans.org.

NOTE: In a separate event, Mr. Panetta will release the Commission’s final report, Marine Reserves: A Tool for Management and Conservation, at the Stanford Law School on Tuesday afternoon. Contact Justin Kenney at 703-283-0384 for information.