Preserving Fish Populations: Purpose of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996

Preserving Fish Populations: Purpose of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996
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The basic purpose of The Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 is to protect populations of fish that were already scarce from overexploitation and to protect species that would become scarce if overfishing continued. The act is also known as the “1996 Amendments to the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act” or the “Magnuson-Stevens Act.” The Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 specifies that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the governmental agency in charge of enforcing the act (16 U.S.C. 1801).


Fishery harvests around the world were increasing in the 1960s. Spain, Russia, and Japan were leaders in the fishing business. In 1969, The Stratton Commission released a report that calculated “intensified exploitation of new species could eventually increase worldwide landings from 60 million metric tons in 1966 to 440–550 million”. The Commission saw fisheries as an area of immense opportunity, and called for the expansion of United States fishing operations.

Fish, as any other biological species, are subjected to internal and external factors that may influence their rate of development. One of these factors its human exploitation. Commercial interests in certain fish species is a negative factor that may decrease the number of individuals in a population, especially when such exploitation is undiscriminated and not done with the preservation of the species in mind. The Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 recognises that “certain stocks of fish have declined to the point where their survival is threatened” and that “other stocks of fish have been so substantially reduced in number that they could become similarly threatened”.

Purpose of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996

The ultimate goal of the 1996 Act is to preserve fish stocks for sustainable management. Section 101 of the SFA briefly describes the overall purpose of the Act, which is to protect overfished fish populations. The law has many provisions that can be seen as furthering the purposes of the act. For example, Section 108 of the SFA clearly specifies that Fishery Management Plans (FMP) can be designed and implemented to limit the sale of certain species of fish with the obvious purpose of preserving the biological species. Also, this section deals with the process of setting individual fishing quotas.

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Section 113 of the Act establishes prohibited acts for this law. Tampering, removing gear, and causing damage is specifically prohibited by the law. Bribing and harassing observers and data collectors in prohibited and considered a prohibited act.

The Act (Section 116) also provides for funds to be assigned if disaster strikes, whether natural or man-made, at the request of the governor of a state or by the affected fishing community. Those funds are aimed at restoring the affected fishery and / or to prevent a similar event to reoccur.


  • Hsu, Shi - Ling and Wilen, J. E. (1997). Ecosystem Management and the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act. Ecology Law Quarterly. Vol. 24. pp. 799 - 816 .
  • U.S. Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources. Engineering, and Resources. 1969. Panel Reports of the Commission on Marine Science(The Stratton Commision) ,Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,
  • A GUIDE TO THE SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES ACT. Public Law 104-297. Sustainable Fisheries Act ( 16 USC 1801 ). Office of Sustainable Fisheries ( )
  • Sustainable Fisheries Act ( 16 USC 1801 ). PUBLIC LAW 104–297 — OCT. 11, 1996 ( )