Conservation and Management Act (FCMA) of 1976 (later amended and renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Act).
Congress declared in its original statement of purpose in 1976 that its intent with passage of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act was to ensure “that the national fishery conservation and management program utilizes, and is based upon, the best scientific information available” (Fishery Conservation and Management Act, sec. 2). This purpose was embodied in National Standard 2, which has its origins in the draft Law of the Sea Treaty in circulation in the early 1970s. Neither the congressional statement of purpose nor National Standard 2 has changed since 1976. A report of the Senate Commerce Committee described National Standard 2 “as an important adjunct” of National Standard 1 and stated that it “must be recognized as one of the most important standards” (Senate Committee, Fishery Conservation and Management Act, 94).
There is little doubt, given the context of the times and the paucity of knowledge of fish populations, that the original intent of National Standard 2 was that management and conservation measures would proceed in a timely fashion despite recognized uncertainties in the scientific information. In its report, the Commerce Committee insisted that “there should be no uncertainty that the basic goal of management is to protect the productivity of fish stocks” (Senate Committee, Fishery Conservation and Management Act, 94).
The Commerce Committee recognized that if certainty were required before a management action could be taken in the inherently uncertain arena of natural resource ecology, policies already recognized as detrimental would be continued under the guise of doing no harm. Hence, the consequences of not taking action must be assessed with the same level of scrutiny as other management alternatives (Dayton, 1998). This idea was later included as part of the precautionary approach to fisheries management recommended by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (1995) in the code of conduct for responsible fishing and required by the United Nation’s Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee did not view decision making with limited information as a panacea for future fisheries management, as evidenced by these statements from its report:
As just stated, a basic management objective is to harvest a stock of fish at the level of optimum utilization. If little is known about the size of the stock or environmental effects on other stocks or similar