About the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA)

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA) is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters. First passed in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act fosters long-term biological and economic sustainability of our nation's marine fisheries out to 200 nautical miles from shore. Key objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act are to:

  • Prevent overfishing
  • Rebuild overfished stocks
  • Increase long-term economic and social benefits
  • Ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood

Prior to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, waters beyond 12 nautical miles were international waters and fished by fleets from other countries. The 1976 law extended U.S. jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles and established eight regional fishery management councils with representation from the coastal states and fishery stakeholders. The Councils' primary responsibility is development of fishery management plans (FMPs). These FMPs must comply with a number of conservation and management requirements, including the 10 National Standards—principles that promote sustainable fisheries management.

Congress has twice made significant revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, first in 1996 with the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act, and in 2007 with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, U.S. fisheries management is a transparent and robust process of science, management, innovation, and collaboration with the fishing industry. A scientific analysis of the abundance and composition of a fish stock (stock assessment) evaluates the stock to determine if the stock status is subject to overfishing or overfished. Using this scientific data, Councils set annual catch limits, and if they are exceeded in a fishing year, accountability measures pre-determine the mechanism to respond. Since 2011, our domestic fisheries have had measures in place to meet the new requirements, and today, more than 90 percent of fisheries are maintaining harvest levels below their annual catch limits.

As a result of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the United States is ending and preventing overfishing in federally-managed fisheries, actively rebuilding stocks, and providing fishing opportunities and economic benefits for both commercial and recreational fishermen as well as fishing communities and shoreside businesses that support fishing and use fish products.