What are fish managers?

Fishery Management Plans

A United States delegation of fishery managers and stakeholders attend a conference in Tokyo about global fisheries.
A United States delegation of fishery managers and stakeholders attend a conference in Tokyo about global fisheries.
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Fish managers are responsible in part for creating a fishery management plan (FMP). But to write an FMP, the manag­er must first find out as much about the fishery as possible. That could require commissioning a biological survey of the fishery to determine the biomass of each fish stock as well as the status of the environment.

This can take years. There are 50 FMPs for 247 fish stocks overseen by the National Marine Fisheries Service [source: NMFS]. That's because it's hard to gather all the information necessary to create an effective FMP, particularly with marine species. Many species migrate thousands of miles, making it difficult to assess population size accurately. Fish managers may have to look at fishing trends over several years to draw conclusions about a particular fish stock.

The FMP for fish stock outlines fishing regulations and limitations that fishermen in the United States must follow. It might include specific catch limits or a quota system. The catch-share quota system is gaining popularity in the United States. Under this system, fishermen are allowed to catch a certain number of fish within each season. There's no incentive for rushing or hoarding, because the FMP doesn't allow the fishermen to sell more than their respective quotas allow. With some systems, fishermen can sell or trade quota permits. Early studies suggest that this sort of system can help rehabilitate a depleted fish population while minimizing the economic impact on fishermen [source: Taylor].

Marine fish managers in the United States must follow the regulations set out by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation And Management Reauthorization Act Of 2006. These include:

  • Preventing overfishing while ensuring the best harvest possible
  • Relying upon the best scientific information
  • Managing each fish stock as a single unit when possible
  • Treating multiple closely interrelated fish stocks as a single unit
  • Preventing infringement by policies of one state upon the rights of another state
  • Keeping in mind the unique nature of each fishery -- what's appropriate for one fishery may not work for another
  • Balancing conservation with the economic impact fishing restrictions have upon the community
  • Reducing bycatch as much as possible -- bycatch is the term for unwanted fish caught during a harvest
  • Promoting safety

While the NMFS oversees marine (or saltwater) fisheries, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of America's freshwater fisheries. Every state has its own fishery department in charge of maintaining and regulating the freshwater fisheries in that state. That includes all lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. Like their marine counterparts, freshwater fish managers have to balance conservation with economic considerations. There are dozens of laws and regulations on the federal, state and local level that protect freshwater fisheries.

Fish managers work closely with local scientists, politicians and fishermen to create an FMP that protects both the environment and the economic wellbeing of the fishing industry. While some measures may cause fishermen to suffer a short-term reduction in revenue, the goal is to create a sustainable industry that is both profitable and sustainable.

To learn more about fish managers and related topics, take a look at the links below.


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More Great Links


  • Chambers, LantArea. "Ensuring a Future for Fisheries." Coast Guard Magazine. June 2005. pp. 14-16.
  • Economist. "Fishy Business." Oct. 11, 2008. Vol. 397, Issue 8601, pp. 52-53.
  • National Marine Fisheries Service http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. http://www.noaa.gov/
  • NOAA Fisheries Service. "Implementing the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act of 2006." (Nov. 4, 2008) http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/msa2007/docs/One-and-a-half-year_ReportV2_PQ.pdf
  • ­Taylor, Peter Shawn. "A smart new way to save the fisheries." Maclean's. Oct. 6, 2008. Vol. 121, Issue 39, p. 25.
  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service. http://www.fws.gov/