Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill introduced in U.S. Senate

Outgoing U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) on Wednesday introduced legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary federal law that governs marine fisheries management in U.S. waters.

Bill S. 2991 is essentially the same as the discussion draft released by Begich’s Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard on July 21. It incorporates minor changes in wording and funding authorization levels for veterans benefits.

A new MSA bill was expected as the 113th Congress nears its close. The 1976 law, which established eight regional fishery management councils and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that prohibits foreign vessels from fishing within 200 miles of the nation's coastline, is required to be reauthorized every seven years. A new law could take months to finalize; it was last reauthorized in December 2006.

“My subcommittee held four hearings and nine listening sessions around the country to craft this draft bill and I want to leave it for the next Congress to use as they continue the work on this legislation so important to Alaskans,” said Begich, who was defeated in the November election by Republican counterpart Dan Sullivan.

“This revised draft incorporates many comments from Alaskans and others around the nation who responded to our initial discussion draft in April. Based on comments I’ve heard since then I know there are still many issues yet to be resolved but I hope this draft memorializes the work done so far as this issue moves forward.”

Begich said he reached out to Alaska sport fishermen, subsistence users, commercial fishermen and processors to get their suggestions and concerns.

Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA), an association representing 15 commercial fishing organizations from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico to New England, came out Thursday in opposition to Begich’s plan, saying it fails to “dislodge the poison pill of reallocations” among fishery stakeholders.

“The federal law governing our nation’s fisheries is working well, making the U.S. an example to the world for sustainable fishery management. However, we are deeply disappointed to see Senator Begich give in to sports fishing interests by introducing a reauthorization containing a poison pill provision that sets a dangerous precedent for replacing real science-driven accountability with arbitrary political dictates,” SHA President Chris Brown said in a prepared statement.

“Forcing the Gulf and South Atlantic Regional Fishery Management Councils to revisit allocations every five years could scare away banks from giving loans to many harvesters in need of upgrading the safety and efficiency of their aging vessels. So we hope that the next Congress won’t make the same mistake of letting this economically destabilizing provision plague the next bill.  Congress must ensure American commercial fishermen have every chance to continue providing seafood to millions of American consumers while providing over a million jobs to our economy.”

Outgoing Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has also called on Congress to reauthorize the MSA. In a letter sent to the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Coakley sought approval for HR 4742. The bill would bring updated science and increased transparency, as well as an asset forfeiture fund designed “to address the widespread and well-documented mismanagement and misuse of the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s asset forfeiture fund,” Coakley said in a press release.


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