House committee narrowly approves MSA update

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Anglers and fishing industry activists applauded the passage of a federal bill out of a House committee in mid-December, as an attempt to amend and update the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA, gained traction on Capitol Hill.

Members of the House Committee on Natural Resources approved House Resolution 200 (H.R. 200), which was introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in January 2017, by a 23-17 vote. The vote appeared to be mostly on party lines, as the committee is made up of 25 Republicans and 18 Democrats.

H.R. 200 would revise and reauthorize the MSA through the 2022 Fiscal Year, according to an official House of Representatives summary of the bill.

Young’s proposal would make several revisions and updates to the MSA. Portions of the MSA targeted for revisions include “requirements for fishery management plans for overfished fisheries” and catch limit requirements.

The following revisions were also recommended is H.R. 200:

  • Replacing “overfished” with “depleted” in order to “distinguish between fish that are depleted due to fishing and those that are depleted for other reasons”
  • Require fishery impact statements to include an analysis of potential impacts on quality human environment
  • Require National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to “publish a plan for implementing the Cooperative Research and Management Program”
  • Require NOAA to “develop a plan to conduct stock assessments for all fish for which a fishery management plan is in effect”
  • Require NOAA to “develop guidelines that will incorporate data from private entities into fishery management plans.”

Changes were also proposed for several fisheries associated with the Gulf of Mexico.

Groups such as the American Sportfishing Association hailed H.R. 200 as “landmark legislation” and stated the bill is essential to provide modernization and stability for fishery managers and fishermen.

Angling and fishing advocates also lobbied federal representatives to incorporate the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023) into the MSA update; the American Sportfishing Association stated inclusion of H.R. 2023 in current efforts to pass H.R. 200 would help “address the challenges facing recreational fishermen in the federal fisheries management system.”

Representatives from the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership signed off on a letter stating the MSA update is necessary to address the nation’s “antiquated” policies which limit the public’s access to natural resources.

Moving the MSA update and Modern Fish Act together would, according to Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane, “provide parity for federally-managed recreational fisheries, while continuing to safeguard the conservation of our fisheries resources.”

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), however, claimed efforts to update the MSA via H.R. 200 would actually harm policies aiming to prevent overfishing and foster the rebuilding of overfished stocks.

“With this vote, the House stands poised to move forward with its effort to weaken our federal fisheries law in the name of injecting so-called flexibility into the fishery management process,” an NRDC blog post, referencing the House committee’s 23-17 approval of H.R. 200, stated.

“Making matters worse, they’ve included a suite of even broader attacks on our oceans in the bill that would make it much harder to protect special ocean places, like marine national monuments and marine sanctuaries, and imperiled ocean wildlife, like whales, sea turtles, and sea birds.” Molly Masterson, who authored the blog post, continued.

The blog stated H.R. 200 creates loopholes to the annual catch limit requirements and undermines established environmental law.

A blog post on the Environmental Defense Fund website also challenged H.R. 200, stating the bill lacks “meaningful bipartisan support.”

“H.R. 200 would exempt a significant, and unclear, number of fisheries from this important requirement, including an indeterminate number of species that are targeted by some fishermen,” the EDF blog post stated. “[The bill also] creates so many exemptions from the current rebuilding requirements that it would effectively eliminate most rebuilding deadlines.             “The result could well be short-term increases in quotas, but in the long-term it will likely lead to declines that will bring hardship to fishermen and coastal communities,” the blog post continued.

EDF staff added they believe H.R. 200 would prevent innovation and restrict use of certain management tools.

National Marine Sanctuaries photo

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