Politicians call for more flexibility in Magnuson-Stevens Act

Published on
September 28, 2017

During testimony at a Congressional hearing Tuesday, officials and lawmakers alike called for the next version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to include greater flexibility to oversee the country’s regional fisheries.

The House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans discussed three bills and a draft of another all focused on reauthorizing or amending the law that oversees the country’s fishery management programs in federal waters.

“It is my hope that we can use these bills in front of us today to produce a strong, bipartisan Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization that supports jobs and our fishermen by strengthening the science, data and process used in federal fisheries management,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado), the subcommittee chairman.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) welcomed the call for a bipartisan approach. In noting that it’s been more than a decade since the last reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens, he said that partisan agendas have delayed important updates that would address flexibility and accountability issues.

“This process has focused on weakening fundamental environmental protections in place of making meaningful improvements to our important fisheries management framework,” said Huffman, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.

As seafood industry experts did with the Senate earlier this month, Jon Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford, Massachusetts, urged officials to revisit the 10-year rebuilding schedule for rebuilding fish stocks. Mitchell said the “arbitrary” regulation often prohibits fishermen from catching their full quota.

 “When quota is set too low on certain species, it prevents fishermen from catching the other, healthy species that intermingle with them,” he said in a written statement to the subcommittee. “These so-called ‘choke’ species are the reason why fishermen in the North Atlantic cannot catch their full quota of healthy and abundant species, such as haddock.” 

Two of the bills discussed during the hearing, both sponsored by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana), focused on opportunities related to recreational fishing. Graves wants NOAA Fisheries to better collaborate with states to give those fishermen more opportunities.

In particular, Graves’ Red Snapper Act would extend recreational access from nine miles out into the Gulf of Mexico to 25 miles. It also would allow Gulf states to set their own red snapper seasons within that territory. 

“Without legislation, private recreational anglers are likely facing an extremely limited, if not obsolete, federal season next year,” Graves said. “Most importantly, it begins to bring stability to the private recreational fishery by incorporating much more accurate data from Gulf-state fisheries agencies.”

Graves’ red snapper bill is similar to a bill U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) filed in the Senate. They have been met, however, with some opposition from environmental and commercial groups. Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, testified Tuesday that recreational fishermen and their interests should try to work within the Magnuson-Stevens framework rather than try to subvert it. 

Specifically, opponents say the proposals’ easing of restrictions on recreational fishing could have dramatic effects on those who fish for a living.

“Without a mandatory backstop in the law affecting private anglers, federal authorities would have to sharply reduce commercial and charter/for-hire quotas to make up for any private angler overages,” wrote Monica Goldberg, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, on the organization’s blog last week. 

Maintaining a balance between commercial and recreational interests remains a challenge, said Chris Oliver, the assistant administrator for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. He said it not just an issue in the Gulf, either. 

However, while some regions may face the same or similar challenges, Oliver said officials need the ability to apply solutions for regional fisheries that won’t drastically and negatively affect others.

“We support legislative opportunities to provide flexibility in applying annual catch limits, improve our science, and create innovative management approaches to rebuild more fish stocks,” he said.

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