Cabinet Secretaries, Members of Congress, Scientists Create Roadmap to End Overfishing Crisis, Grow Fishing Economy

November 13, 2008

The economic and environmental disaster of overfishing can be stopped with a straightforward update of fishing regulations, according to Oceans of Abundance, a new report released today by a bipartisan working group of two dozen economic and environmental leaders and scientists.  The full report is available at

“President-Elect Obama faces depleted fisheries that have caused painful job loss and a ticking litigation clock if legal deadlines to end overfishing by 2011 aren’t met,” said Bruce Babbitt, co-chair of the working group and former Secretary of the Interior and Arizona governor. “The good news is that new science clearly points the way to recovery.”

“Overfishing is one environmental crisis that President-Elect Obama and Congress can actually solve in the near-term,” said Norm Mineta, working group member and former Commerce and Transportation secretary. 

The group recommends widespread adoption of “catch shares,” a fishery management system that gives fishermen the flexibility to determine how and when to best meet scientific catch targets. Recent research published in the journals Science and Nature shows that catch shares can stop, and even reverse the collapse of fisheries worldwide while increasing the abundance of fish that can be caught. 

“The leaders who developed these recommendations share a conviction that catch shares are, by far, the best way to manage the nation’s fish stocks,” said former Rep. James Greenwood from Pennsylvania, co-chair of the working group and president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Association.  “Our conclusions are rooted in science, economics, experience, and a realistic assessment of what can be accomplished over the next few years.”

Catch shares set mandatory scientific targets and give fishermen maximum flexibility in choosing how to meet that target.  The mandatory target holds fishermen accountable to catching only the allowable amount of fish.  The flexibility gives fishermen the chance to improve their efficiency, and allows them to benefit as they help restore the oceans.  The value of their shares increases as the health of the resource improves.  The combination of private accountability and flexibility works better than having the government try to manage the details of the fishing business, the working group found.

The stakes of the overfishing crisis are enormous as the food supply of one billion people is in jeopardy, along with 200 million associated jobs worldwide.   “Catch shares are a powerful way to secure fish populations that people around the globe rely on for their main source of protein,” said working group member Jeffrey Sachs, director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Science-based catch shares, wherever implemented, make fish more abundant and fisheries more profitable.  Catch shares also protect ocean productivity and diversity more effectively than traditional management. Economists at the University of California, Santa Barbara estimate that catch shares will easily double the value of U.S. fisheries.

The report urges President-Elect Obama to ensure that all federal fishery management plans are evaluated for catch shares by 2012, and that at least half of all plans feature catch share management by 2016.  Other management programs would be required to match the same level of economic and environmental performance.

The working group also urges Congress to ease bottlenecks to the President’s goal by passing legislation requiring catch shares be considered in all federal fishery management plans by 2012.


The Oceans of Abundance working group was convened by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute to present policymakers with achievable methods, based on the most current scientific consensus, to reverse the economic and environmental decline of U.S. fisheries and the communities that depend on them.  World Wildlife Fund contributed content to the report.  Support for the report was provided by the Walton Family Foundation.


The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is a leading national nonprofit organization representing more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, EDF has linked science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society’s most urgent environmental problems. Environmental Defense Fund is dedicated to protecting the environmental rights of all people, including future generations. Among these rights are access to clean air and water, healthy and nourishing food, and flourishing ecosystems. Guided by science, Environmental Defense Fund evaluates environmental problems and works to create and advocate solutions that win lasting political, economic and social support because they are nonpartisan, cost-efficient and fair. Environmental Defense Fund believes that a sustainable environment will require economic and social systems that are equitable and just.


The Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) began in 1996, to encourage scientists who want to safeguard the oceans’ web of life. Since then, MCBI has become one of the world’s most influential marine conservation organizations, with the mission to advance the science of marine conservation biology and secure protection for ocean ecosystems. Science is central to MCBI. If something isn’t both true and important, MCBI will not advocate for it.  MCBI cooperates with researchers, fishermen, conservationists, business people, legislators, government officials, educators, reporters, to help conserve the oceans’ biodiversity.  MCBI believes that marine ecosystem-based management is the way to protect, recover and sustainably use the living sea. MCBI uses just one measure to gauge success: Are we making a difference in the sea, where it counts? The answer is “yes.”  MCBI’s people are very proud of what they’ve achieved, but recognize there is still much more that needs to be done.


The World Wildlife Fund is the world’s largest conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, stop the degradation of the environment and combat climate change.    


Oceans of Abundance working group members include:


Secretary Bruce Babbitt (co-chair): Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior; former Governor of Arizona, chairman, World Wildlife Fund


Congressman James C. Greenwood (co-chair): President and CEO, Biotechnology Industry Organization; former U.S. Representative (8th District, Pennsylvania); Board of Directors, Marine Conservation Biology Institute


Congressman Sam Farr: 17th District, California; co-chair, House Oceans Caucus


Congressman Wayne Gilchrest: former U.S. Representative (1st District, Maryland); former chair, House Resources Fisheries and Oceans Subcommittee


Congressman Rush Holt: 12th District, New Jersey; member, House Natural Resources Committee


Senator Connie Mack Senior: Policy Advisor, King and Spalding; former U.S. Senator (Florida)


Secretary Norman Mineta: Vice Chairman, Hill and Knowlton; former U.S. Secretary of Commerce; former U.S. Secretary of Transportation; former U.S. Representative (13th and 15th Districts, California)


Governor Christine Todd Whitman: President, Whitman Strategy Group; former Governor of New Jersey; former

Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; former chair, Pew Oceans Commission


Secretary Mike Chrisman: Secretary for Resources, State of California; Chair, California Ocean Protection Council


Dr. Christopher Costello: Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, University of California Santa Barbara


Dr. Dan Esty Hillhouse: Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Yale University; Clinical Professor of Law, Yale Law School


Dr. Steve Gaines: Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, Director, Marine Science Institute, University of California Santa Barbara


Terry Garcia: Executive Vice President, National Geographic Society; former Deputy Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Dr. Les Kaufman: Professor of Biology, Boston University; Principal Investigator, Marine Management Area Science

Program, Conservation International


Dr. Jane Lubchenco: Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology, Oregon State University; former President, American Association for the Advancement of Science; member, National Academy of Sciences; member, Pew Oceans Commission


N.J. Nicholas, Jr.: Chairman, Environmental Defense Fund; Member, Council on Foreign Relations; former President, Time, Inc.  


Dr. John Ogden Director: Florida Institute of Oceanography; Professor of Biology, University of South Florida


Wendy Paulson: Chairman, RARE; President’s Conservation Council, The Nature Conservancy


Dr. Ellen Pikitch: Executive Director, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science; Professor, School of Marine and

Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University


Dr. Andy Rosenberg: Professor, Natural Resources Policy and Management, University of New Hampshire; former Deputy Director, National Marine Fisheries Service; Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy


Dr. Jeffrey Sachs: Director, The Earth Institute, Columbia University; Special Advisor to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations


Dr. Bob Steneck: Professor of Oceanography, Marine Biology and Marine Policy, University of Maine


Christophe A.G. Tulou: Principal, Christophe Tulou Associates; Director, Sustainable Oceans, Coasts and Waterways Program, The Heinz Center; Executive Director, Pew Oceans Commission