Policy on Sustainable Marine Fisheries

Fish are a vital ecological, economic, and food resource, but many species are in decline because of habitat loss, pollution, over fishing, and bycatch1. Fisheries management is hampered by incomplete knowledge of fish life cycles, complex ecosystem relationships, population size, natural population fluctuations, and the adverse effects of habitat loss and pollution. Current commercial and recreational fishery practices have contributed to changes in the biological composition of marine ecosystems. Long-term ecological health and sustainability of aquatic biodiversity must take precedence over short-term economic considerations.

All parties, commercial and recreational fishers, consumers, environmental groups, governmental regulators, and the general public, must move towards a policy of recovering depleted fisheries stocks and developing a sustainable fishery management regime.

The Sierra Club therefore urges the state and federal agencies responsible for fisheries management to:


  1. Adopt the precautionary principle to protect the biodiversity and integrity of the coastal and ocean ecosystems;
  2. Move from managing fisheries on a species or species complex basis to an ecosystem approach which would include addressing: (a) the impacts of fishing on non-target species (sea turtles, marine mammals, sea birds); (b) changes in biodiversity of the marine food web as a consequence of harvesting fish; (c) impacts of land-based pollution from all sources and habitat loss/degradation from physical human activities in estuarine, nearshore, and offshore areas; and (d) population structure of target fish species and composition fish communities to avoid fishing down the food chain from larger predator species to smaller species lower in the chain.
  3. Invest in coordinated and expanded research on habitat, fishing and natural fish mortality, climate change, threats posed by biotoxins, bacteria, and viruses, and development of less destructive fishing gear and techniques;
  4. Designate and utilize no-take reserves, time and area closures, and restrictions on fishing effort for protection of breeding, spawning, and nursery areas for fish.
  5. Develop better coordination of fisheries management across jurisdictional boundaries;
  6. Establish and implement programs and policies that effectively reduce habitat degradation by physical disruption and land based pollution sources;
  7. Eliminate government subsidies that support unsustainable fishing operations;
  8. Provide financial aid only for retiring fishing vessels and gear, and for retraining displaced fishermen for new employment opportunities. Support economic incentives to promote the use of gear or fishing operations that are shown to be less damaging to habitats and ecosystems.
  9. Provide greater opportunity for non-commercial fishing constituents, representatives of environmental and consumer groups, and private citizens interested in our public fisheries resources to participate in fishery commissions, councils, and advisory panels that recommend or set fisheries public policy.




  1. Bycatch - Bycatch is the indiscriminate catching of fish and other marine life other than those a fishing vessel intends to capture. This includes fish that are not the target species, sex, size, or quality. It also includes many other fish and marine life that have no economic value, but are ecologically important, such as starfish, sponges, and skates. Primarily, bycatch results from fishing practices and gear that are not selective. In addition to visible mortality, fish and other sea life are sometimes killed or injured when passing through or escaping fishing gear, and through ghost fishing from abandoned or lost gear.
  2. Precautionary Principle - Precaution involves acting in advance to avoid or minimize negative impacts, which implies, in environmental management, that in the face of scientific uncertainity on cause and effects relationships accompanying the potential impacts that the benefit of the doubt is given to the conservation of natural resources and the maintenance of biodiversity.


Board of Directors, September 20-21, 2002
Agenda #B3b, Consent Agenda

Marine Conservation

The Sierra Club endorses the following recommendations of the Panel on Oceanography of the President's Science Advisory Committee (...): "Man's ability to modify and alter marine environments necessitates:

  1. establishment of a system of marine wilderness reserves;
  2. large-scale efforts to restore and maintain the quality of already damaged environments;
  3. increased research into possible biological effects of environmental modification; and
  4. advance consideration of biological effects of proposed programs that might cause environmental modifications." "Establishment of a system of marine wilderness preserves [would be] an extension to marine environments of the basic principles established in the Wilderness Act of 1964 .... In the present context, specific reasons for such preserves inlcude:
    1. provision of ecological baselines against which to compare modified areas.
    2. preservation of major types of unmodified habitats for research and education in marine sciences.
    3. provision of continuing opportunities for marine wilderness recreation."

Adopted by the Board of Directors, October 10, 1966

Law of the Seas



    1. the oceans are an integral part of the Earth's biosphere and react with the atmosphere, regenerating a substantial portion (70%) of the Earth's oxygen by the photosynthetic process with plankton on or near the surface of the oceans;
    2. the oceans are important to us as a source of food and protein, and for recreational, aesthetic, ecological, scientific and other values;
    3. humanity's information, data and understanding of the oceans is incomplete, and much is unknown about the conditions and processes of the oceans, marine life, the marine environment, and the effect of pollution on these, and therefore development of ocean resources should proceed slowly and with care;
    4. the oceans are acutely afflicted with pollution from a multitude of contaminants which emanate from a variety of sources, both land-based and marine, and whereas this pollution is global in nature affecting the entire marine environment;
    5. oceanographers and U.N. reports warn that marine pollution, if it continues unabated, seriously endangers the viability of life within the oceans and may result in the death of seas or large oceanic areas, thereby endangering the survival of terrestrial species including human beings;
    6. the oceans' environmental quality has deteriorated from overfishing of ocean-living resources, and it may further deteriorate with the exploration, exploitation or development of marine mineral resources, such as oil, gas and hard minerals;
    7. the existing law of the sea is based upon a fragmented, piecemeal approach to the control of pollution and the preservation of the marine environment, and there are inadequate provisions in international law for the control of marine pollution;
    8. the United Nations will hold a general Conference on the Law of the Sea commencing in New York in November 1973 which shall consider, inter alia, international law governing pollution of the oceans, the preservation of the marine environment, and the creation of new laws concerning the development of marine mineral resources;
    9. the Sierra Club's International Committee, and its Task Force on the Oceans, have considered the problems of the law of the sea with respect to pollution and the preservation of the marine environment, and have accepted a written report on these matters.


Be it resolved that:


    1. the Sierra Club favors international approaches, through bilateral, regional or multilateral conventions and other international arrangements, to control pollution of the world's oceans and to preserve the marine environment. It favors a strong international regime over the seas covering the maximum area of the ocean with comprehensive environmental controls and standards relating, among others, to marine pollution and overfishing, effective enforcement provisions and an equitable distribution of resources, which regime involves all the nations of the world. However, it favors such international controls to the extent they are not less stringent than the environmental laws or regulations of the United States or other countries, when the U.S. or other countries have jurisdiction under international law to validly enact and enforce environmental laws and regulations in excess of those in international law;
    2. the Sierra Club generally opposes unilateral claims over the oceans for environmental purposes as an ineffective method of controlling pollution and preserving the marine environment, except that such unilateral claims may be permissible only in exceptional emergency circumstances, provided such action is consistent with preserving or enhancing marine environmental quality, and such a unilateral right, if any, should be stated in a multilateral treaty;
    3. if the coastal state is given jurisdiction over the ocean beyond the territorial sea or contiguous zone under the Geneva Conventions on the law of the sea, by establishing a new "economic resource zone" or patrimonial sea, then the coastal state should be required to act as a custodian for all nations to control pollution and preserve the marine environment; and the coastal state should be given primary, but not exclusive, environmental jurisdiction; but if the coastal state failed to enact or enforce minimum international environmental standards, then an international environmental authority would have jurisdiction in the "patrimonial sea" for environmental purposes. This international environmental authority shall establish a plan for the oceans, set environmental standards and enforce the same. The coastal state, or regional arrangements of coastal states, may enact and enforce higher environmental controls and standards than the international minimum standards;
    4. the law of the sea should be expanded to clearly define pollution and to state a general obligation of all states not to pollute the oceans, to protect and preserve the marine environment, and to be liable and responsible for damage to the marine environment from pollution. These provisions should manifest a comprehensive, systematic, yet flexible, approach to life in the oceans and marine pollution, whether arising from land-based or marine sources, which approach is based upon scientific, ecological analysis. This also includes freedom of scientific research in the oceans to monitor and control marine pollution with free exchange of the fruits of such research;
    5. the Sierra Club is opposed to any international seabed treaty or regime governing the development of ocean mineral resources unless such treaty or regime contains stringent environmental provisions to prevent pollution and enhance and preserve the marine environment, including but not limited to: (1) an environmental impact analysis before approving or licensing a project for the exploration, exploitation or development of ocean mineral resources and that such a project shall be approved only if it is consistent with enhancing or preserving the environmental quality of the oceans or any part thereof; (2) states and international organizations be given a right to seek review of any license to develop resources as to the proposed project's compliance with the regime's environmental provisions; (3) the elimination of the conflict of interest in promoting development and preserving the environment, which is inherent in many proposed regimes, such as by creating an Environmental Commission with persons of the highest competence in marine environmental and ecological matters to review each development project or by broadening the regime to include jurisdiction over matters other than marine mineral development; (4) provisions for guidelines to properly balance development and conservation consistent with the oceans' environmental quality;
    6. the Sierra Club takes no position at this time on the breadth of the territorial sea, contiguous zone, or economic resource zone because regardless of the breadth environmental protection is a necessary provision of each;
    7. the United States be required to analyze thoroughly the environmental impact of the United States' draft of a U.N. Convention on the International Seabed Area, dated August 30, 1970, and that a similar environmental analysis of the seabed proposals of the U.S. and other countries submitted to the U.N. should be performed by the U.N. Environment Secretariat;
    8. the Sierra Club opposes the "flags of convenience" principle which weakens marine environmental controls, and it favors state responsibility of the state of registry of vessels causing pollution. It also favors stronger international methods of enforcing environmental laws and standards, including the application of the universality principle to marine pollution; and
    9. the Sierra Club favors international conventions establishing international marine parks, preserves and sanctuaries in seas and oceanic areas of international significance, such as by an amendment to the Convention For the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Resources. Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 5-6, 1973 ["whereas" and "resolved" repetition eliminated]; amended July 8, 1995


200-Mile Fisheries Zone

The Sierra Club supports the adoption of the legislation providing a 200-mile fisheries zone because of the immediate and urgent need for steps to preserve the fish resources of the North Atlantic seas and other coastal waters, providing that the unilateral extension of jurisdiction shall not be extended to non-living seabed resources, which must be dealt with as part of the Law of the Seas Conference, and provided that, as this extension affects the other 32 parties to the 1958 Geneva Fisheries Convention, the Congress instruct the President to invoke the United States treaty rights under that convention to secure either protection of fish resources or recognition of a United States 200-mile fisheries zone.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, October 11-12, 1975