There was a time when we didn't know any better. In 1884, English scientist Thomas Huxley wrote that "probably all the great sea-fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say that nothing we do seriously affects the number of fish."
"You could see the impact of the waste. I remember thinking that this couldn't last," recalled Bill Hogarth Hogarth, the head of ocean fisheries under President George W. Bush and now the director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography. I caught up with him recently when I went to Florida.
Ecosystem-based fisheries management may sound complex, but there are concrete, cost-effective steps to make it a reality, including conserving habitat where fish spawn and protecting food sources for fish.
We need a new national policy that guides federal managers to "start smart" by factoring in, up front, all available research on potential damage to marine ecosystems that would occur with new or expanded fishing activities.
Our oceans are one of our nation's most valuable natural resources. And congressional leaders should capitalize on this opportunity by adding stronger protections for essential habitat that fish populations need to spawn and grow in a healthy marine ecosystem.
Any doctor would point out that this year's report wasn't a clean bill of health: Thirty six of America's most commercially and recreationally important ocean fish populations are still subject to overfishing, and 45 have been depleted to unhealthy levels.