Key US seafood groups oppose bill reauthorizing Magnuson-Stevens Act
The National Fisheries Institute (NFI), National Restaurant Association (NRA), National Retail Federation (NRF), National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR), and over 150 fishing companies have come out in opposition to an effort to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA).
The Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, At-Sea Processors Association, and other industry groups penned a a letter to U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Raul M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) opposing H.R. 4690. According to the letter, the current effort would “throw the U.S. fishing and seafood sector into chaos.”
“During a legislative hearing on H.R. 4690 held last November, detailed testimony was presented by expert witnesses about sections of H.R. 4690 that raise alarms for fishery managers and participants,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, those detailed and specific concerns appear to have been ignored.”
The groups said mandates on eliminating bycatch contained in the legislation could be used to shut down fisheries where bycatch cannot be eliminated, the letter said.
“Similarly, some of our nation’s biggest fisheries would meet the definition of forage fish in your legislation, needlessly requiring strict new limitations on directed fishing,” the industry letter states.
Overfishing is declining in the U.S., overfished species have recovered, and ecosystem-based fisheries management has improved outcomes for species, the groups said. But they said the reauthorization bill ignores that progress and would enact requirements that would exceed current management capacity.
“Combined with other provisions that would weaken [U.S. regional fishery management council] authority and flexibility, these legislative changes would be catastrophic for sustainable domestic food production and the millions of Americans who rely on U.S. fisheries for jobs and income, economic security, and affordable protein,” the letter said.
In addition to the letter from industry organizations, NFI, NRA, NRF, and NCCR sent their own letter to Grijalva, also asserting the current status of H.R. 4690, if enacted, would “upend” the current seafood supply chain.
“We believe enactment of H.R. 4690 would harm American seafood consumers by constraining supply, raising consumer prices, and exacerbating the supply chain uncertainty that continues to undermine the food industry,” their letter said.
Similar to the industry letter, the letter from NFI, NRA, NRF, and NCCR said that the current bill would open the industry up to protracted litigation.
“We are especially concerned by H.R. 4690’s proposed new requirements relating to forage-fish protection, essential fish-habitat conservation, and bycatch avoidance,” the letter states. “In each case, the existing responsibility of fishery managers to balance complex competing interests would be curtailed. Working under rigid new strictures, fishery managers – or judges responding to the claims of plaintiffs – would shut down or severely restrict some of our nation’s largest commercial fisheries to satisfy narrow legislative mandates and for reasons unrelated to marine ecosystem health.”
MSA reauthorization has been a multi-year effort in Congress, with U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) filing a bill to reauthorize the act in 2021. The bill was then debated in November 2021. Progress on the bill, however, was halted with the death of U.S. Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republican who served as that state’s only congressman for nearly half a century, and one of the original authors of the MSA.