Democrats wrestled control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in eight years in Tuesday’s elections across the United States, and that change in control may have implications for the fishing industry.
As of Wednesday morning, 7 November, the Associated Press had 219 House seats going to the Democrats, with 193 going to the Republicans. Democrats needed just 218 seats to win a majority, but with 23 seats still up for grabs, they could see their caucus grow to 230 or more once all election results have been tabulated.
Where Tuesday’s results may have the most impact on the seafood community is through the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Industry insiders who spoke to SeafoodSource Wednesday said they did not expect H.R. 200, a bill which passed the House earlier this year, to get a vote in the Senate before the term ends next month.
That means, the process would start over again when the new Congress convenes in January. U.S. Rep. Don Young, who sponsored the reauthorization bill in this Congress, won re-election for his seat in Alaska, but as a Republican, he’ll be in the minority starting next year.
One political figure to watch is U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman. The California Democrat serves as the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans. Come January, barring committee assignment shake-ups, he’d be in position to chair the subcommittee that handles fisheries management issues.
“We will likely be looking to work with Rep. Huffman to draft a new house version in the coming months,” Ryan Bradley, director of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, told SeafoodSource. “However, we do not anticipate MSA reauthorization being a top priority for Congress, at least through the rest of this year.”
Bradley’s group opposed H.R. 200 because it contained language that it felt gave recreational fishing interests too much control over the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
One thing that may help the seafood industry is that many Democrats represent coastal communities reliant on fishing, according to Bob Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood, which conducts media and public outreach on behalf of the seafood industry. Vanasse told SeafoodSource that his group will work with Democrats to vote for the interests of their constituents. He urged them to follow in the path of former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who worked to support fishermen, many of whom were middle-class small business owners.
“One can be a good liberal and also represent your fishing constituents,” Vanasse said. “One would think that would be a natural fit.”
This year, aquaculture advocates have worked Capitol Hill to garner support for their cause from both Democrats and Republicans, in anticipation of a change in leadership. Margaret Henderson, campaign manager for Stronger America Through Seafood, told SeafoodSource that the group’s cause isn’t a partisan one.
“Ultimate passage of offshore aquaculture legislation relies more on broad constituent support and less on which party controls Congress,” she said. “In the words of former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, ‘All politics is local.’ SATS incorporates this timeless reality into our strategy. For example, SATS is building bridges among diverse stakeholder groups – industry supporters, environmental NGOs, feed manufacturers, commercial fishers, and consumers.”