Recent Hearing with the House of Representatives Natural Resource Committee

On December 1, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing regarding several bills aimed at amending the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA for short, was originally passed in 1976, and its goal was to prevent overfishing and effectively manage fish stocks in the US by creating regional fishery management councils. It has been amended many times, most notably in 1996 and 2006, every time in the effort to increase conservation efforts of our natural resources in the fishing industry. While the efforts are applauded, some fish stocks are still depleting, habitats are disintegrating, and many fishermen are losing their jobs. The MSA is due for reauthorization in 2013, which is one reason why it has come to the foreground recently. The bills discussed at this hearing all address these issues.

Rep. Pallone’s (D-NJ) bills, H.R. 594 and H.R. 3061, both are an attempt to help the fishing industry. The goal of H.R. 594, known as the “Coastal Jobs Creation Act of 2011,” is to address coastal economies by providing grants to help fishermen and coastal businesses, help rid our ocean and beaches of marine debris, and invest in updates to current technology. H.R. 3061, or the “Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2011,” is meant to amend the MSA to grant better access to the public regarding the fish stock assessments, and to use improved data when making stock assessments.

Rep. Frank’s (D-MA) bill, H.R. 2610, the “Asset Forfeiture Fund Reform and Distribution Act of 2011,” aims to amend the MSA so that money collected from fishing penalties goes back to the states, rather than the federal agency which issued the penalties (NOAA).

Rep. Jones (R-NC) discussed his bill, H.R. 2753, the “Fishery Management Transparency and Accountability Act,” whose purpose is to allow Regional Fishery Management Council meetings and records to be publically accessible.

Rep. Wittman’s (R-VA) bill is H.R. 2304, the “Fishery Science Improvement Act of 2011.” Its goal is to provide NOAA with more time to properly assess fish stocks before implementing annual catch limits (ACLs) to fisheries.

Rep. Runyan (R-NJ) discussed two bills he introduced, H.R. 1646, the “American Angler Preservation Act,” and H.R. 2772, the “Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011.” Rep. Runyan stressed that in both these bills, the goal is to ensure sound science before imposing regulations.

Finally, Rep. Keating (D-MA) discussed his bill, H.R. 1013, the “Strengthen Fisheries Management in New England Act of 2011.” As the title implies, the bill requires increased research and proper oversight of collected funds for penalties in New England fisheries.

The hearing began with each Representative discussing his own bill(s), and the importance of voting on (and passing) said legislation. Next, a panel of fishery managers, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, and lawyers from firms that address fishery issues, all spoke about their impressions of these bills, and potential implications were the bills to pass through Congress. Everyone had a different opinion: some felt that the current legislation was unfair, while others thought it was based on sound science and thus was important to pay attention to (regardless of the current job situation in our country), and other panelists expressed that they could understand both sides, and felt more discussion was needed before arriving at a final conclusion. Finally, a third panel consisting of the Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Eric Schwaab, spoke. Mr. Schwaab expressed the need for understanding, and assured the committee members that NOAA was doing its best to ensure that fish stocks were rebuilt before it’s too late. He reiterated that while it seems bad at the moment for fishermen, it would be worse without the regulations NOAA has set, because the stocks would be further depleted, and it would lead to complete desolation of fish stocks around US waters.

Marine Conservation Institute will continue to monitor these bills as they move along the legislative process.

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