Fishery conservation and management bill clears congressional committee

By: Parimal M. Rohit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill proposing to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) cleared its first legislative hurdle last month, as the House Natural Resources Committee endorsed House Resolution 1335 (HR 1335).

HR 1335, also known as the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, was introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and aims to reauthorize and update the MSA.

Young’s bill specifically proposes to give fisheries managers more flexibility and transparency to collect data, conduct research and comply with federal laws. 

“The management plans developed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act have allowed our coastal communities to benefit from these important renewable natural resources while maintaining the health of fish stocks,” Young said. “While the [MSA] has worked well, there ultimately comes a time when we must review and update our laws to keep pace with the changing dynamics of our industry and ensure they are being implemented as intended.” 

According to Young’s office, HR 1335 proposes to give fishery managers in “data poor” regions flexibility to rebuild depleted fisheries and set annual catch levels. The federal bill also proposes to increase transparency to allow scientists and fishery managers to work together more efficiently and effectively.

Other proposals include protecting confidential information and propriety data submitted to regulatory agencies, clarifying how the MSA interacts with federal statutes such as the Marine Sanctuaries Act, making monetary appropriations for five fiscal years and requiring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to “provide better accountability on how fees are collected and used.”

Young’s proposed legislation would update the way fisheries are managed, enforced and harvested around the country by green lighting the use of Electronic Monitoring (EM).

“The National Marine Fisheries Service has for far too long lagged behind the interest of the industry to use electronic monitoring (EM) as an addition or alternative to on-board observers,” said Congressman Young. “The use of electronic monitoring could help provide real-time information to fishery managers and at the same time reduce costs for fishermen. But in order for this to be an effective tool, NOAA needs to move forward with standards to allow the Councils to further use the technology in their regions.”

Finally, the MSA could be updated to require fishery managers to use electronic monitoring, instead of on-board observers, to obtain real-time information.

“Through a number of modest but necessary reforms, this legislation ensures the needs of our fisheries resources are balanced with the needs of our fishermen and coastal communities,” Young said. “By reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, we allow for this important law to more closely reflect the current science, management techniques and knowledge of our fishermen and regional management councils.”

Three congressmen co-sponsored HR 1335: Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama), and Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-Alaska).

Young introduced HR 1335 on March 4. The bill is virtually identical to HR 4247, which endured 10 oversight and legislative hearings and several amendments before gaining congressional approval last year.

HR 1335 earned the Natural Resources Committee endorsement on April 30.

The MSA was enacted in 1976 and, with enforcement provided by NOAA, governs fisheries and fishing in federal waters. Eight regional councils and several fishery management plans were created by the MSA. Congress reauthorized the MSA in 1996 and 2006.

HR 1335 aims to update the MSA to give each region the flexibility to better manage its fishery, as opposed to enforcing a streamlined law.

According to an April 27 memo from the House Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee to House Committee on Natural Resources members, there were nearly 11 million recreational saltwater anglers nationwide in 2012.

“These recreational anglers spent a total of $24.6 billion on trips and gear in 2012, generating $58 billion in sales impacts and supported 381,000 U.S. jobs,” the memo read.

Young was an original author of the 1976 MSA; he tapped Bishop to push HR 1335 through the House. He also penned an editorial column in March to conjure up public support for the reauthorization of the MSA, writing HR 1335 would “ensure a proper balance between the biological needs of our fish stocks and the economic needs of our fishermen and coastal communities.”

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