updated 2/24/2012 8:48:36 AM ET 2012-02-24T13:48:36

New nationwide protections for more than 500 marine species are going into effect this year, making the United States the first country to take such dramatic steps to prevent and end overfishing.

Every major fisheries species from Caribbean queen conch to Georges Bank cod will have a science-based catch limit that will regulate how much stock can be taken from the ocean.

The idea is to restore depleted species and prevent overfishing by setting reasonable limits now, before some fish populations plummet to critically low levels.

The new regulations have already started taking place across different parts of the country and will be in effect nationwide by May.

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The new rules mark a major milestone in efforts to effectively manage fish—a particularly difficult task that has taken decades to achieve. For many years, fishery managers from various parts of the country had failed to follow scientific advice and authorized more fishing than could be sustained. A few species had science-based, enforceable limits, while others only had restrictions on the size of fish that could be taken or the daily number that could be kept by each fisherman. But those rules didn’t adequately cap the overall amount of fish removed from the ocean.

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Five years ago, Congress and President George W. Bush decided it was time to address the problems by revising the nation’s primary fishing law—the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

The updated rules required regional fishery managers—which establish fishing policies in eight areas of U.S. waters—to set limits on all species they oversee by the end of 2011. ( Scroll a timeline of America’s fishing regulations.)

The managers set rules on species that are most commonly caught, such as mahimahi in the South Atlantic and New England pollock. The limits differ from region to region, depending upon the condition of the local fish populations and the biological characteristics of the species. The plans don’t cover every species that swims in the seas. Some fish closer to shore can be regulated by states, and others may not be regulated at all, generally because they are not caught in great numbers.

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But the quotas cover the important species that form the backbone of our commercial and recreational fishing industries, which put seafood dinners on our plates and provide hours of fun on the water. This proactive approach should ensure abundant fish populations to support jobs, recreation and tourism. Rebuilding our nation’s fisheries is expected to add $31 billion to the U.S. economy and 500,000 U.S. jobs.

Yet this promise of robust fish populations is overlooked by some fishing groups that complain about the revised rules. These opponents are pushing to weaken the smart policies that have been shepherded by Congress, Presidents Bush and Obama and hundreds of the nation’s best fishery scientists and managers.

The new limits are based on sound science and are critical to ending an overfishing epidemic that has plagued the United States for decades. Overfishing threatens the health of our ocean ecosystem and our economy. Let’s not take a step backward after making so much progress.

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See what some southeastern anglers have to say: here.

For more information about the Pew Environment Group’s work to end and prevent overfishing, visit this link here.

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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