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.


Fisheries Law - US

  • Anadromous Fish Conservation Act

    The Anadromous Fish Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. 757a-757g; Pub. L. 89-304, as amended) authorizes the Secretary of Commerce, along with the Secretary of Interior, or both, to enter into cooperative agreements to protect anadromous and Great Lakes fishery resources.

  • BLM - Fisheries Program

    The BLM Fisheries Program maintains, restores and conserves fish habitat on the public lands. Much of this work is accomplished in collaboration with others and funded through various partnerships with Federal, State and non-governmental organizations. The BLM also conducts aquatic resource inventories and monitoring to help managers make informed decisions and to assist in the design of other BLM program activities to ensure the special habitat needs of aquatic species are adequately considered.

  • Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) was signed on December 28, 1973, and provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range, and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend. The ESA replaced the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969; it has been amended several times.

  • Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act)

    The Act directs the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to cooperate with state fish and game departments in fish restoration and management projects. No money apportioned under the Act to a state can be expended until its legislature assents to the provisions of the Act and passes laws for the conservation of fish, including a prohibition against the diversion of fishing license fees for purposes other than administration of the state fish and game department. According to the Wallop-Breaux amendments passed in 1984, coastal states must allocate amounts apportioned to them under the Act between marine and freshwater fish projects in the same proportion as the estimated number of resident marine and freshwater anglers.

  • Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act

    Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act ("Nongame Act"; 16 U.S.C. 2901-2911; 94 Stat. 1322) -- Public Law 96-366, approved September 29, 1980, authorizes financial and technical assistance to the States for the development, revision, and implementation of conservation plans and programs for nongame fish and wildlife. The original Act authorized $5 million for each of Fiscal Years 1982 through 1985, for grants for development and implementation of comprehensive State nongame fish and wildlife plans and for administration of the Act. It also required the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study potential mechanisms for funding these activities and report to Congress by March 1984.

  • Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act

    The Act of March 10, 1934, authorizes the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce to provide assistance to and cooperate with Federal and State agencies to protect, rear, stock, and increase the supply of game and fur-bearing animals, as well as to study the effects of domestic sewage, trade wastes, and other polluting substances on wildlife.

  • Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act

    The Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act of 1978, approved November 8, 1978, authorizes the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce to establish, conduct, and assist with national training programs for State fish and wildlife law enforcement personnel. It also authorized funding for research and development of new or improved methods to support fish and wildlife law enforcement. The law provides authority to the Secretaries to enter into law enforcement cooperative agreements with State or other Federal agencies, and authorizes the disposal of abandoned or forfeited items under the fish, wildlife, and plant jurisdictions of these Secretaries.

  • Fishermen's Protective Act

    The Fishermen's Protective Act of 1967 (22 U.S.C. 1971-1980; Pub. L. 90-482, as amended) authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to establish an insurance fund for the reimbursement of owners or charterers of fishing vessels which incur damage, loss, or destruction while engaged in any fishery under U.S. exclusive management, or are damaged by a vessel other than a U.S. vessel.

  • Fishery Conservation and Management Act

    Also known as Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, this law established a 200-mile fishery conservation zone, effective March 1, 1977, and established Regional Fishery Management Councils comprised of Federal and State officials, including the Fish and Wildlife Service. The concept of a fishery conservation zone was subsequently dropped by amendment and the geographical area of coverage was changed to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), with the inner boundary being the seaward boundary of the coastal States.

  • International Fisheries Agreements

    International Fisheries Agreements is a new reference publication being developed by Ocean Law to be launched in 2008. It will consist of two print volumes and an online volume which together will provide a detailed reference work on all major fisheries agreements. Volume 1 (Print): Multilateral Fisheries Agreements; Volume 2 (Print): Bilateral Fisheries Agreements; and Online: International Fisheries Agreements Online.

  • International Fisheries Law and Policy Portal

    The Internet Guide to International Fisheries Law is a major research reference resource in international fisheries law, first developed by Ocean Law in 1999. It provides access to documentation and information on international fisheries agreements, international and national case law, international fisheries organizations and research materials on international fisheries law (consisting of approximately 85% documentary materials and 15% original text).

  • National Fish Habitat Conservation Act

    The National Fish Habitat Action Plan is an unprecedented attempt to address an unseen crisis for fish nationwide: loss and degradation of their watery homes. The plan was born in 2001 when an ad hoc group supported by the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council explored the notion of developing a partnership effort for fish on the scale of what was done for waterfowl in the 1980s through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

  • NOAA Office of Law Enforcement

    NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement is dedicated to enforcing laws that conserve and protect our nation's living marine resources and their natural habitat. Our goal is to assure that the many people who enjoy these resources for recreation or rely on them for business follow the rules that will maintain the species for future generations.

  • NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service

    Welcome to NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries Service). NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to the stewardship of living marine resources through science-based conservation and management, and the promotion of healthy ecosystems. As a steward, NOAA Fisheries Service conserves, protects, and manages living marine resources in a way that ensures their continuation as functioning components of marine ecosystems, affords economic opportunities, and enhances the quality of life for the American public.

  • Office of Sustainable Fisheries

    The Office of Sustainable Fisheries (OSF) is a headquarters program office of the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), or NOAA Fisheries Service. OSF works to manage fish stocks important to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries by providing guidance to our Regional Offices and Regional Fishery Management Councils; facilitating effective communication between and among constituents; and supporting safe seafood.

  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a bureau within the Department of the Interior. Our mission is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

State Fish and Game Agencies

Organizations Related to Fisheries Law

  • Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat

    The geographic extent of the ACFHP stretches from Maine to the Florida Keys, including all or part of 16 States. It covers 476,357 square miles, including land areas inland to the headwaters of coastal rivers, and ocean areas outward to the continental slope. The ACFHP plans to work throughout the region, but will focus on estuarine environments and place less emphasis on coastal headwaters and offshore marine ecosystems.

  • California Fish Passage Forum

    The mission of the California Fish Passage Forum is to protect and restore listed anadromous salmonid species, and other aquatic organisms, in California by promoting the collaboration among public and private sectors for fish passage improvement projects and programs. Species of concern include: coho and chinook salmon, and steelhead trout.

  • Desert Fish Habitat Partnership

    Desert fish have declined across these arid lands as a result of habitat loss and alteration and the widespread introduction and establishment of nonnative aquatic species. Despite numerous federal and state laws, regulations, and policies to protect and recover native desert fishes and their habitats, most of them remain imperiled.Current habitat conditions and threats require specific management actions and focused consideration of desert fishes if these species and their habitats are to be protected and remain viable into the future.

  • Driftless Area Restoration Effort (DARE)

    The Driftless Area Restoration Effort (DARE) spearheaded by Trout Unlimited, is a geographically focused, locally driven, consensus based effort to protect, restore, and enhance rivers and streams for fish and other aquatic life throughout the Driftless Area.

  • Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV)

    The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV) is a recognized Fish Habitat Partnership operating under the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. The EBTJV coordinates efforts that build private and public partnerships to improve brook trout habitat. The long-term goals of the EBTJV are to implement a comprehensive conservation strategy to improve aquatic habitat, raise public awareness, and prioritize the use of federal, state and local funds for brook trout conservation.

  • Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices

    Working with partners, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices (FWCOs) restore and maintain fish and other aquatic resources for the benefit of the American public, helping ensure that these resources stay among the richest and most diverse in the world. FWCOs ensure the continuing ecological, recreational, subsistence, and commercial health of America’s fisheries resources. Working across geographic and political borders, FWCO biologists help craft partnerships and solutions to conserve, restore, and enhance our natural resources.

  • Fishers and Farmers Partnership

    Our vision rests on a belief that the combined experience, Seitz Farm knowledge and skills of fishers and farmers can measurably improve the health of land and streams in the altered landscape of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. To advance this purpose, rural landowners voluntarily develop and implement science=based solutions to local water quality issues, with the support of conservationists.

  • Great Lakes Basin Fish Habitat

    The international Great Lakes Basin is a unique and young-of-year Lake Sturgeon (Photo Credit: USFWS) biologically diverse region containing the largest surface freshwater system in the world, with sport and commercial fisheries valued at over $7 billion annually. The fishery and aquatic resources of the Great Lakes have suffered detrimental effects of invasive species, loss of biodiversity, poor water quality, contaminants, loss or degradation of coastal wetlands, land use changes, and other factors.

  • Great Plains Fish Habitat

    Streams of the Great Plains are home to a wide diversity of aquatic fauna adapted to harsh changes in temperature and water availability. Low human population density has enabled many Great Plains streams to remain relatively unimpaired, yet aquatic species have experienced a slow but steady decline in abundance and diversity during the 20th Century and continue to face challenges that threaten their viability.

  • Hawaii Fish Habitat

    The Hawaii Fish Habitat Partnership is composed of a diverse group of partners that have the capacity to plan and implement a technically sound statewide aquatic habitat restoration program. In addition to state and federal resource agencies, our partners include local watershed coalitions, non-profit organizations, industry groups and private landowners who are interested in increasing effective stewardship of stream, estuarine, coral reef and coastal marine habitats.

  • Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat

    Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership is a conservation partnership developing on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. This partnership is working with the National Fish Habitat Action Plan to protect, restore, and enhance our area's fish and aquatic communities.

  • Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat

    The Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership believes that thriving fish, healthy habitats, and vital communities can co-exist in the Mat-Su Basin. Because wild salmon are so central to life in Alaska, the partnership works together to ensure quality salmon habitat is safeguarded and restored when possible. This approach that emphasizes collaboration and cooperation to get results.

  • Midwest Glacial Lakes

    The mission of the Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership is to protect, restore and enhance Midwestern glacial lakes fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people. fishing

  • Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat

    The Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership was formed toOhio River Basin (Photo Credit: Ken Cooke) protect, restore, and enhance priority habitat for fish and mussels in the watersheds of the Ohio River Basin. We pursue this mission for the benefit of the public, but what brings us to the table is as diverse as the basin itself. Whether it is sport fish, mussels, imperiled fish, water quality, or one of many other drivers, what bonds us is the Basin and our desire to work together to protect, restore, and enhance her aquatic resources.

  • Regional Fisheries Management Organizations

    Many fish stocks and other living marine resources move freely though several countries’ waters and the high seas. Countries must cooperate to conduct scientific study and set fisheries rules that will ensure that these resources are conserved and managed sustainably.

  • Reservoir Fisheries Habitat

    Reservoirs are inextricable parts of our natural landscapes they cannot be isolated or dismissed in conservation management. Constructed to meet a variety of human needs, they impact almost every major river system in the United States, affecting to various degrees habitat for fish and other aquatic species and, in turn, affected by the health of the watershed in which they reside.

  • Southeast Aquatic Resources

    The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) is a regional collaboration of natural resource and science agencies, conservation organizations and private interests developed to strengthen the management and conservation of aquatic resources in the southeastern United States.

  • Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat

    The Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership is a made up of local communities, Native organizations, subsistence users, anglers, hunters, commercial fishing interests, lodge owners, hunting and fishing guides, tourism interests, non-profit organizations, federal, state, and local agencies and corporations and foundations working cooperatively to conserve fish, wildlife and habitat and perpetuate the uses they support through voluntary habitat conservation in Southwest Alaska.

  • Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI)

    The Mission of the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI as we call it) is to serve as a key catalyst for the implementation of conservation or management actions, through partnerships and cooperative efforts, that result in improved western native trout status, improved aquatic habitats, and improved recreational opportunities for native trout anglers.

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