The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters. First passed in 1976, the MSA fosters long-term biological and economic sustainability of our nation’s marine fisheries. Key objectives of the MSA are to:
- Prevent overfishing.
- Rebuild overfished stocks.
- Increase long-term economic and social benefits.
- Ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood.
Under the MSA, U.S. fisheries management is a transparent and public process of science, management, innovation, and collaboration with the fishing industry. As a result, the United States is ending and preventing overfishing, actively rebuilding stocks, and providing fishing opportunities and economic benefits for both commercial and recreational fishermen, as well as fishing communities and shoreside businesses that support fishing and use fish products.
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History of the MSA
Before the MSA, international waters began at just 12 miles from shore and were fished by unregulated foreign fleets. The 1976 law extended U.S. jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles and established eight regional fishery management councils with representation from the coastal states and fishery stakeholders. The councils’ develop fishery management plans that comply with the MSA’s conservation and management requirements, including 10 national standards—principles that promote sustainable fisheries management.
Congress has twice made significant revisions to the MSA, first in 1996 with the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act and in 2007 with the MSA Reauthorization Act.
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Sustainable Fisheries Act:
- Strengthened requirements to prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished fisheries.
- Set standards for fishery management plans to specify objective and measureable criteria for determining stock status.
- Added three new national standards to address fishing vessel safety, fishing communities, and bycatch.
- Introduced fish habitat as a key component in fisheries management.
2007 MSA Reauthorization Act:
- Established annual catch limits and accountability measures.
- Promoted market-based management strategies, including limited access privilege programs, such as catch shares.
- Strengthened the role of science through peer review, the scientific and statistical committees, and the Marine Recreational Information Program.
- Enhanced international cooperation by addressing illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing and bycatch.
Under the MSA, we are ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks, which strengthens the value of fisheries to the economy, communities, and marine ecosystems.
International Provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act:
The Magnuson‐Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, which amended the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act, directs the United States to strengthen international fisheries management organizations and to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and bycatch of protected living marine resources. The Moratorium Protection Act was further amended in 2011 by the Shark Conservation Act to improve the conservation of sharks domestically and internationally.
The Moratorium Protection Act requires NOAA Fisheries to produce a biennial Report to Congress that lists nations the United States has identified for IUU fishing and/or bycatch of protected species and shark catches on the high seas for nations that do not have regulatory measures comparable to the United States.
Once a nation is identified, we enter a two-year consultation process to encourage that nation to take necessary measures to address the issue for which it was identified. Following these consultations, NOAA Fisheries determines whether to negatively or positively certify the identified nation in the next Report to Congress. A positive certification is issued if the nation has provided evidence of actions that address the activities for which it was identified. A negative certification may result in denial of U.S. port access for fishing vessels of that nation, and potential import restrictions on fish or fish products.