US House passes revised Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday, 11 July, that would extend and revise the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

By a 222-193 vote, Congress passed H.R. 200, titled “the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.” The tally fell largely along party lines, although nine Democrats supported the bill and 15 Republicans voted against it.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), extends the MSA, which is the law overseeing U.S. fishery management, through the 2022 fiscal year. Among the changes to the MSA, it would eliminate the timeframe window, currently capped at 10 years, for rebuilding fish stocks. It also would grant more flexibility to regional fishery management in administering their stocks.

“We know that each region works within their unique conditions, which is why I fought to ensure the management process will be improved by allowing regional fisheries to develop plans that meet their local needs,” Young said in a statement after the vote. “I am proud to say my bill protects our commercial and recreational fishing interests, and will allow Councils to do their jobs in a more streamlined and effective manner.”

The proposal drew strong support from seafood industry representatives, including most commercial and recreational fishing interest groups.

Bob Vanasse, executive director for Saving Seafood and its National Coalition of Fishing Communities, praised Young, House Natural Resources Chairman U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado), who chairs the Water, Power, and Oceans Subcommittee, for “developing a bill that addresses the concerns of multiple constituencies, and will serve to further improve the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which has left a legacy of success in its wake since Congressman Young and my former Congressman, the late Gerry Studds, were original co-sponsors in 1976.”

Groups representing commercial fishing interests in the Gulf of Mexico, however, ended up opposing the bill mainly because of how it addresses one of their key stocks, red snapper. For starters, the bill extends state recreational fishing management authority for the fish to nine miles offshore in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The limit was previously set at three miles.

During the floor vote on Wednesday, an amendment authored by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves that critics say favors recreational fishing interests.

“In the Gulf, H.R. 200 stacks the deck for recreational interests to completely take over the red snapper and red grouper fisheries, pursues resource rent for commercial catch shares, and would prohibit real commercial fishermen from having a seat on the Gulf of Mexico or South Atlantic Fishery Management Council,” Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United said in a statement sent to SeafoodSource. “We look forward to working with the Senate to ensure this bill never makes into law.”

Conservation groups also attacked the bill, which they said threaten the gains made as a result of Magnuson-Stevens. Earlier this year, NOAA Fisheries reported the number of stocks reported as overfished is at an all-time low.

“In order to be profitable, fisheries must be well-managed, and follow strong, science-based conservation measures that hold all stakeholders accountable for what they take from the ocean,” said Whitney Weber, a campaign director for Oceana. “Weakening the MSA now would be disastrous for our oceans and for U.S. fisheries.”

However, seafood industry officials have argued that how officials assess stocks currently under MSA have drastically limited the amount of fish they’re able to harvest. They’ve pushed for changes in the process, which are included in Young’s bill, that they said would improve data collection and provide more accurate stock information.

“While GSSA members operating in numerous East Coast fisheries understand that no bill can be perfect, we agree H.R. 200 is a positive step forward toward restoring some badly needed balance to the Act while preserving our conservation success since the 2006 Amendments,” said Greg DiDomenico, executive director of New Jersey’s Garden State Seafood Association.

Having passed the House, MSA reauthorization now heads to the Senate, which may take up Young’s bill or vote on another and set up a conference committee with the House.

Photo courtesy of the Office of U.S. Rep. Don Young


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