A year ago, after a stormy season in which the US and China combined to take home over a third of the world’s catch, the US Federal Government announced that the country was looking for ways to shore up fisheries.
In March this year, a new policy was announced that aimed to “restore the balance between fishery and environment”.
The policy, titled Fishery Conservation for the 21st Century, was designed to address the impact of climate change, overfishing and other environmental issues.
It also sought to “reduce the impact on the local economy” by allowing the federal government to manage fisheries more effectively and with greater certainty, while also creating more jobs.
The announcement, which has since been withdrawn, was met with praise from conservation groups and conservation organisations across the world.
But now the Obama Administration is moving on from the “fishing to restore the balance” theme, and is set to reintroduce “the fishing to restore our economy” theme as part of a new strategy to address climate change.
While some experts have praised the administration’s initiative, others have criticised the initiative as too vague, lacking clarity on the sustainability of the fishery, and potentially having unintended consequences.
What is ‘fishery conservation’?
Fishery conservation is the process by which the federal and state governments work together to protect fish stocks in a given area.
In a country like the US, where the vast majority of fishing occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s very difficult to predict how the fisheries of the region will be impacted in the future, says David Gonsalves, executive director of the conservation group PETA.
“When we talk about fisheries conservation, it really means how we manage the fishing to protect the environment, how we work to protect local fishing, how the fishing industry is regulated, how people are affected, and that sort of thing.”
The strategy is designed to make “significant and sustained progress in fisheries conservation”, Gonsampas says, by reducing the impact fisheries have on the ecosystem and the impact they have on people.
It was launched in January this year and aims to make significant and sustained improvements in fisheries management over the next decade, he adds.
The strategy includes a pledge to work with states and localities, and has been met with some mixed reactions.
The US has taken the lead in implementing the fishers conservation strategy, and now the states and municipalities are looking to other countries to follow suit.
But the strategy also includes a number of areas where the federal Government has not been clear, including the need for greater investment in fishing, Gonsampsays.
It will be a challenge for states to convince the Trump Administration to follow through with the plan, he says.
The focus of the federal policy is “in part to address fishery management challenges in areas that are underdeveloped and undervalued”, but also to increase fishery production, Gersampsays, the president of the National Fisheries Institute, told Al Jazeera.
Gonsalspats concerns are echoed by other experts who say that the federal fishery conservation plan is too vague.
“Fisheries conservation is about fish and not just fishing,” says Jim Wilson, a former head of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and an expert in fish conservation and fishery economics.
“The goal is not to restore fish stocks to their pre-fisheries, but to restore fishery resources that are already in the fisher’s pocket, that are stable, that have a lot of economic value and have value to people.”
Wilson says that “the administration’s approach is not necessarily clear, or consistent, or comprehensive”.
“They have a goal of restoring fisheries to their pristine pre-reproduction state, but they have a policy for fish management that is not comprehensive, it is not coherent, and it is inconsistent with their stated mission,” he adds, arguing that “they are missing a key element of fisheries conservation”.
Some conservationists have also argued that the fisherries conservation plan was created to be implemented over a number years, which makes it difficult to make the impact in the immediate future.
The plan will not take effect until 2020, when the next presidential administration takes office, and Wilson says he is concerned that the strategy will be ineffective if the administration is not fully engaged in implementing it.
“I think that the goal of the plan is not yet there,” he says, “and I think that that is a big question mark.”
The Trump administration has also taken aim at the fisherry conservation plan, with the announcement of an executive order that aims to “implement, support and expand the fisherys fisheries management efforts and policies in the United States and in other countries”.
It is unclear if the executive order will be implemented as a whole, or if it will be part of the Fishery Restoration for the Twenty-First Century plan, which will also focus on fisheries management, Gies