The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is a United States federal agency formed in 1871. The mandate of the NMFS is "to conserve and manage marine fisheries to promote sustainability and to prevent lost economic potential associated with overfishing, declining species, and degraded habitats".
Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce oversee the NMFS. The NMFS is responsible for the stewardship and management of the nation's living marine resources and their habitat within the United States' Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends seaward 200 nautical miles from the coastline. The primary responsibility of the NMFS is to conserve and manage marine fisheries in the US EEZ beyond state waters, while the coastal states and territories generally have authority to manage fisheries in near-shore state waters.
The Georges Bank, which lies within the US EEZ beyond the border of the State of Massachusetts, was once one of the world’s most productive fishing ground. It supported fisheries for Atlantic Cod and halibut for more than 400 years, but it collapsed in 1977—106 years after NMFS was created!
By failing to protect declining populations of sharks, the East Coast has seen a population explosion of cownose rays, a prey item of the sharks. The huge numbers of rays, in turn, have been decimating scallops, leading to collapse of the scallop industry. NMFS has had many successes, but their record is not good in other areas where they continue to rely on degraded baselines and ignore the science.
And now, the recent announcement by NMFS that it “may supercede the shark fin laws of states and territories” -- laws that further protect sharks by closing loopholes in the Shark Conservation Act -- highlights NMFS’ failure to abide by its mandate to prevent the continuing decimation of shark populations. The states and territories have done what NMFS failed to do.
NMFS was created at a time when the sea’s bounty seemed endless and fish seen only as consumables. Today we have learned the resources of the sea are finite, and that it is critical to maintain the health of the largest ecosystem of our planet.