Trade groups want 10-year requirement removed from Magnuson-Stevens Act

As Congress gets ready to address reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, representatives from commercial fishing interests are urging lawmakers to revisit some of the current law’s regulations they feel have hindered the industry.

In particular, they’re urging officials to do away with language that caps rebuilding plans for overfished species to 10 years. It’s an arbitrary figure that has too rigidly applied across all federally managed species, said Lori Steele, the executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association, at a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.

“Mixed stock and multispecies fisheries in particular are incredibly complex to understand and manage,” she said in a prepared statement. “We’ve experienced this on the East Coast and the West Coast. Stocks within a multispecies complex can have very different life histories and growth rates.”

Greg DiDomenico, executive director for the Garden State Seafood Association, joined her in support for ending the requirement, adding his group wants rebuilding plans based on science.

“We support rebuilding plans that can take into account environmental factors and predator/prey relationships,” he said.

However, not everyone representing commercial interests at Tuesday’s meeting spoke out for needing more flexibility in the rebuilding plans.

Bubba Cochrane, the president of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, said the Magnuson-Stevens Act has helped rebuild more than 40 fish stocks since 2001. He implored lawmakers to keep the requirement in its current form.

“When it comes to science-based fishery management, flexibility is a slippery word, especially when it means making an end-run around conservation,” he said. “Make no mistake about it: extending rebuilding timelines in the name of flexibility would be a step away from science.”

Tuesday’s session was the third in the series of hearing on the act’s reauthorization held by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), the subcommittee chairman. The purpose behind those hearings, which began last month, has been to gather testimony from various groups – including the Trump administration, commercial fishing interests, recreational fishermen, and tribal leaders – in an attempt to build a consensus on a bill that would keep the 41-year-old law that primarily governs U.S. fisheries on the books.

Sullivan, in his opening remarks at Tuesday’s hearing, said he’s heard from many stakeholders for the need to modify the law. He said Congress supports the need for data that’s supported by reputable scientific methods to ensure the country’s fishery is both sustainable and profitable. 

“Technology needs to play a larger role in this as it has the potential to provide efficiencies to reduce administrative burdens and increase the accuracy of the data used for stock assessments and catch accountability,” he said.

The Senate panel wasn’t the only Congressional hearing Tuesday to examine fishing issues. The House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on federal lands held a hearing on the SHARE Act, which would loosen restrictions on hunting and fishing in federal lands and waters.

“Every American has the right to enjoy these lands in all the traditional pursuits, and hunting and fishing are indisputably the oldest of them,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California), the subcommittee’s chairman, said.


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