Fisheries Law

What is Fisheries Law?

Fisheries Law refers to state and federal legislation regarding the protection of endangered species of fish and the protection of their habitats, as well as statutes designed to ensure the safety of fish products used by consumers. Fisheries law also refers to federal and state laws regulating commercial and sport fishing activities, such as fishing licenses, permits, catch limits and the dates of the fishing season.

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA) is the primary source of federal law regarding marine fisheries law in the United States. The MFCMA was enacted to promote the U.S. fishing industry's best use of coastal fisheries by "consolidating control over territorial waters" and establishing eight regional councils that manage fish stocks. Although amended several times to prevent overfishing, and added on to by the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, the overall function of the Act has been to:

*Conserve fishery resources;

*Support enforcement of international fishing agreements and treaties;

*Promote fishing in line with conservation principles;

*Provide implementation of fishery management plans (FMPs) to achieve optimal fishing yields while maintaining fish populations;

*Establish eight Regional Fishery Management Councils to administer fishery resources;

*Develop underutilized fisheries;

*Protect essential fish habitats; and

*Reduce "bycatch" (fish unintentionally caught along with the targeted fish by fishing operations) and establishing fishery information monitoring systems.

Regulatory Mechanisms

The eight Regional Fishery Management Councils are charged with developing and implementing fishery management plans. These plans are designed to both restore depleted fish stocks and manage existing, healthy stocks. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) assists the Secretary of Commerce in evaluating and approving the council's fishery management plans (FMPs). The Regional Fishery Management Councils are comprise of members nominated by the governors of their respective states who are subsequently approved by the Secretary of Commerce.

A fishery management plan specifies which stocks are overfished and set forth measures needed to rebuild that stock. The Regional Councils then implement the policies described in the FMP by regulating annual catch limits, individual catch limits, community development quotas, and other criteria.

The Annual Catch Limit (ACL) is often the primary focus of these regulations and is amplified by other mechanisms regulating the types of gear used, licensing vessels, and use of observers on fishing boats.

For more information about Fisheries Law, please review the materials listed below. Additionally, you can find an attorney in your area that focuses his or her practice on Fisheries Law by visiting our Law Firms page.


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