House Bill on Fisheries Law Still Needs Work
Knowing that every part of Cape Cod’s small-boat fishing community is acutely affected by national fisheries policy, the Fishermen’s Alliance feels it is important to present a unified stance on the recently-passed H.R. 1335, (Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska). We believe this is a flawed reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA)—the primary law governing our nation’s fisheries.
Although Congress has been taking testimony for a few years, the House Natural Resources Committee mark up of the bill and its introduction onto the House floor for a vote happened very quickly over the course of three weeks.
As the process moves to the Senate, we want our membership to understand why we do not support this bill and how we think it could be improved.
About the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA)
The MSA established fundamental conservation standards that required NOAA Fisheries Service and regional fishery councils to end overfishing, rebuild depleted fish populations and establish sustainable catch limits. The law and its previous reauthorizations have been a success—less than 18 percent of the nation’s assessed fish stocks are overfished and less than 10 percent are subject to overfishing. Since 2000, more than 30 stocks have been successfully rebuilt.
The Fishermen’s Alliance recognizes that this MSA reauthorization provides an opportunity to strengthen a law that is working. Along with other conservation-minded and community-oriented commercial fishing groups across the country, we agree that the MSA could be improved, with an eye toward three key points:
- better science and data collection on fish populations
- comprehensive and affordable monitoring on fishing vessels
- protections for small-boat fishermen who fish in nearshore waters
Young Bill Pros
The Young bill does include some important elements that we would support:
- It establishes a framework for regional fishery management councils to implement electronic monitoring on fishing vessels.
- It enhances cooperative research and management programs between federal scientists and the fishing industry.
- It improves data collection in recreational fisheries to provide a full picture of how much fish is coming out of the water.
The bill also includes a new and broader characterization of troubled fish populations as “depleted” and considers how factors besides fishing activity may have contributed to this, such as climate change or more predators in the ecosystem. This is important because we aren’t managing our fisheries in a vacuum, and we do need to consider how environmental factors in our ecosystem impact our fish populations.
Young Bill Cons
Unfortunately, this bill would make those factors loopholes that fishery councils could use as an excuse to abandon science-based management decisions. It is these types of loopholes that could weaken some of the current law’s sustainability requirements and threaten fish populations. Essentially, what we oppose in Young’s bill is that:
- It creates multiple exemptions to the existing requirements to rebuild fish populations in a timely manner. (We feel that there is plenty of flexibility in the way the law is currently enacted to modify rebuilding timelines when warranted.)
- It limits which fisheries are required to have annual catch limits. (We believe that any fish that has a directed fishery needs to have an annual catch limit, especially small, schooling forage fish that other fish, such as Atlantic cod, rely on as a food source.)
- It makes null and void a sustainable fishery management plan for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that could set a dangerous precedent for unravelling other successful fishery management programs around the country. (We feel that Congress should not undermine decisions made at a regional level with the participation of local fishermen.)
Cape Cod Impacts
We cannot afford to take the risks outlined in Young’s bill. The last thing we need is more excuses to delay the rebuilding of our peninsula’s namesake fish, the Atlantic cod. Furthermore, the current bill does not resolve the problems that Cape Cod fishermen are facing.
- It doesn’t increase funding for electronic monitoring, and Cape Cod fishermen can’t afford to pay monitoring costs for cod and other groundfish species when they aren’t even catching them.
- It doesn’t provide funding for much-needed stock assessments, which would help create more stability in our fisheries management.
- It doesn’t protect small-boat fishermen who are not able to travel as far offshore as bigger boats. Healthy nearshore fish populations are critical to the survival of the small-boat fleet, and the reauthorization should ensure that everyone has the ability to make a living from their home ports.
The MSA gets reauthorized once in a decade. We can’t wait another ten years for a bill that will include solutions to the problems that Cape Cod fishermen are facing.
When the Senate begins its work on reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, we would urge that they seek a more comprehensive and stabilized reauthorization that will maintain the integrity of the conservation priorities—such as science-based catch limits—necessary to ensure profitable fishing businesses, while allowing for improved data collection, enhanced funding for observers and collaborative research, and protections for small-boat fishing communities.
There is still time to make these vital changes before this bill is made into law and to remove the loopholes that could dismantle sustainable management of America’s fisheries for the next generation of fishermen. This has been our long-standing position through both of the previous reauthorizations.
Why It Matters
Cape Cod fishermen have the resources and innovation to make significant improvements to ensure a healthy future for their fishing businesses, and we will continue to work with them to make their voices heard locally and in Washington. We will also keep you informed if the Senate picks the House bill up and how you might be able to get involved. We look forward to your support on this crucial fisheries issue.
Read more press surrounding the MSA Reauthorization:
- Fishermen's Alliance Statement as part of the national Fishing Community Coalition
- Walinski, Greg. The (New Bedford) Standard-Times. “Your View: Not all fishermen support Young bill,” May 31, 2015.
- Urban, Peter. Gatehouse Media Washington Bureau. “Fisheries bill passes on party lines,” June 1, 2015. Claire Fitz-Gerald quoted
- CapeCod.com Newsroom (Cape Cod Broadcasting). “Fishing Group Criticizes Some Elements of Federal Fishing Act,” June 3, 2015. CF interviewed.
- Fraser, Doug. Cape Cod Times. “Critics hammer fisheries bill,” June 3, 2015. Claire Fitz-Gerald and Greg Walinski quoted.