U.S. House passes unpopular fishery management bill

By

James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
June 2, 2015

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) introduced by Alaska’s Republican Congressman Don Young. Early reactions from the fishing industry were positive, but most environmental groups, as well as some commercial fishermen, labeled the vote as a disappointment.

Passed by a 225-152 vote, H.R. 1335, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, aims to give regional fishery management organizations the tools for greater efficiency, say proponents. It would also provide nearly USD 2 billion (EUR 1.79 billion) in funding through 2019, but opponents to the bill argue that significant changes are simply not necessary.

“Flexibility is a cornerstone of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which promotes regional flexibility recognizing differing ocean conditions, variations in regional fisheries, different harvesting methods and management techniques, and distinct community impacts,” said Young. “H.R. 1335 will provide a number of modest but necessary updates to the Act, including efforts to improve fisheries management flexibility and transparency, improve data collection, create jobs, and what I believe is very important — provide predictability and certainty to the coastal communities that depend on stable fishing activities. Today’s passage of these commonsense reforms is truly a win-win for our fish, our coastal communities, and the nation.”

Opponents of the bill, however, say H.R. 1335 weakens the United States’ primary marine fishery management regime, considered by many to be a model for success in promoting sustainable practices and ending overfishing.

“This is the wrong way forward,” said Ted Morton, director of U.S. oceans at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “H.R. 1335 is significantly flawed legislation. It hurts U.S. fishermen and coastal communities by undercutting progress in ending overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish populations. It erodes science-based management. It fails to tackle tough 21st century problems, such as habitat loss and warming ocean temperatures, with a more comprehensive approach.”

"We are disappointed with the House passage of H.R. 1335. The legislation passed by the House undermines the strong science and conservation measures within the current law and promotes greater uncertainty in the future management of our fisheries,” said Robert C. Vandermark, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network. “We hope the Senate will follow in the tradition of Senators Magnuson and Stevens and work across the aisle to draft a bill that builds upon the law’s success and strengthens it to meet the new challenges our oceans and fisheries face.”

Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA), which represents the interests of commercial fishermen across the country, have argued that the “remarkably successful” MSA should remain largely intact.

“Overall, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working and significant reforms are unnecessary,” said SHA Executive Director Brett Veerhusen. “We continue to be deeply concerned about provisions in the bill, including those that would force the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils to review allocations based on arbitrary political deadlines. These requirements would create the prospect of perpetual review and economic uncertainty for commercial fishermen, reward unaccountability and overfishing, and deprive millions of Americans of access to American seafood.

“We understand Congress’ desire to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but if the House bill is going to be enacted, the Harvesters believe that the bill will first require significant changes. The Magnuson-Stevens Act has proven, in its current form, to be sufficient in its ability to ensure America’s fisheries are harvested sustainably and responsibly.”

Not all reactions were negative: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, said the bill would provide stability for fishery managers and fishermen.

“I am pleased that the House acted to ensure the needs of our fisheries resources are balanced with those of our fishermen and coastal communities,” Sessions said. “The reforms in this bill provide local councils and stakeholders the flexibility they need to manage their fisheries. It also helps strengthen data collection and enhance transparency for our fishing industries and the communities they support.”

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