"In 1976, when Congress first passed comprehensive legislation to begin managing the nation’s fisheries, its primary goal was to push foreign factory fishing fleets further from U.S. shores.1 At the time—however absurd it seems now—there was no legal mechanism in place to prevent other countries’ vessels from vacuuming out waters as close as 12 nautical miles from shore. On fair days, Russian trawlers could be seen from the beaches of Massachusetts and the rocky coasts of Alaska.
Recreational fishing was an afterthought for federal regulators. The concept of overfishing—defined as taking more fish out of the ocean in a year than the remaining population can replace—was still new, so policymakers did not consider that anglers with rods and reels, primarily casting from the beach or small pleasure boats near shore, could cause ecological damage. In addition, the vast majority of recreational fishing was carried out in state waters, which, in most states, extend to just three nautical miles from shore."