Flexibility in Fishery Management
Magnuson Stevens Reauthorization Passes US House of Representatives
Today, the House passed a long-awaited overhaul of the "constitution" for federal fishery laws - the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA).
Sponsored by Alaska's Representative Don Young, this bill (HR200) will add flexibility that would allow Regional Fishery Managers to develop fishery plans that are sustainable and work for recreational and commercial fishermen. The Alaska Charter Association appreciates all the hard work Rep. Young has committed to this achievement.
"While some will criticize the bill for rolling back protections, that is simply not true," said Young during the debate on the House floor.
"This bill was written for fish and fishing communities, and not for special interest groups."
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), who is the ranking minority member of the House Resources committee said MSA "is our nation's most important fisheries law" but called the new bill the
"Empty Oceans Act" that is going to "return us to the bad old days" of overfishing.
He offered an amendment to gut the bill by imposing such strict schedules for rebuilding fish stocks that fishing opportunity would be almost impossible to obtain. His proposed amendment failed.
Prior to his long career in California politics, Huffman served as a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves pointed out that Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico states in the Southeast host the vast majority of fishing jobs and fish landings are states that support HR200, while states like California, Oregon, Maine and Washington have relatively low landings, and little fishing activity due to political hostility to fishing, and they oppose the bill.
Rep. Huffman cited a number of opposed commercial fishing associations that receive support from corporate environmental groups pushing IFQs and no-fishing zones.
Huffman opposed an amendment to have the Government Accounting Office analyze the relative economic value of the recreational vs. commercial fisheries in the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. Further opposed a report on collecting resource rent to the Treasury from limited access fishing privileges like IFQs.
Recreational fishing issues became a highlight of the debate. Huffman declared that recreational fishermen are not disadvantaged under the current law (!) and opposed HR200 because it allows Councils to review allocations in favor of recreational fishing (!)
Don Young pointed out that the partisan opposition to his bill originates from environmental groups that oppose fishing, both recreational and commercial. He reviewed the history of the MSA, his work with former Rep. Gary Studds in the House to establish the 200-mile EEZ and a bill for sustainable yield for US fisheries.
Young objected strongly to the accusation from the minority that HR200 weakens the science used in fishery management.
"This bill was a year in negotiation," Young said. "There is nothing in this bill that permits overfishing."
House Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) pointed out that many of the letters generated by NGOs refer to non-existent sections of the bill, revealing a lack of understanding and knowledge of the law, policy and fishery management.
So what does "flexibility" mean?
Two decades ago, during the West Coast Groundfish Disaster, many species of rockfish were overfished. Because of the way MSA was written, overfished stocks needed to be rebuilt as soon as possible, with little regard for the viability of fishing communities.
As a result, ports in California, Oregon and Washington lost ice houses, fuel docks, processing facilities and charter fishing operations went out of business in droves.
The strict rebuilding schedules worked, but the infrastructure that supports all fishing industries were lost. Indeed some of the overfished stocks were declared "rebuilt" far ahead of the legal requirements at the expense of all fishing communities which in many cases ceased to exist and will never come back.
In retrospect, the stocks could have been rebuilt over a longer period of time while sustaining the communities that depended on them. HR200 will help prevent that situation in the future. Flexibility can help the charter industry in Alaska by ending the year-to-year jerk around on regulations. This is a big win for our industry.
Now the Senate takes up the companion bill, SB 1520, known as Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, in reference to the increasing importance of recreational fishing to the nation's economy. We'll be watching closely.