Talking to Congress
By John Pappalardo
As Congress slowly plows ahead on reauthorizing the key piece of legislation that regulates the American fishery -- the Magnuson Stevens Act, MSA – I was invited to testify before the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources on November 16.
This subcommittee is where hard details are getting hammered out. The chair, Congressman Jared Huffman of California, is a great ally to small-boat fishing fleets like ours and asked for our insights.
So I did my best, representing not just our Fishermen's Alliance but the Fishing Communities Coalition, with more than 1000 fishing members from Alaska to Maine.
What follows is a much-edited excerpt of what I shared. Still technical, but it offers an interesting perspective on how important details make their way into law, and how we try to shape results.
I began by thanking everyone, then jumped in:
Before examining specific provisions of the legislation being reviewed today, I’d like to offer one overarching observation regarding the reauthorization process. 2006 was the last major MSA reauthorization, and it took well over a decade for many of those provisions to be implemented. Much of the delay was due to the lack of agency resources, staff, scientists, and ship time. I ask the subcommittee to be mindful that simply changing the law does not necessarily mean those changes will go into effect immediately. They become unfunded mandates … As you consider amending the MSA, please consider the level of resources, both in terms of budget and staff, it will take to enact changes and the likelihood those resources will be available to the agency.
H.R. 4690: Title I …
The Fishermen’s Alliance and the FCC support increasing the adaptive capacity of fisheries management, incorporating climate science into fisheries research, and strengthening the resiliency of fish stocks to climate change impacts as proposed in the bill. However, the prescribed solution to managing shifting stocks in Sec. 105 is not something we can support at this time. Having experienced “joint plans” with the New England and Mid-Atlantic councils when I was chair, I found them to be bureaucratic, time-consuming, and not necessarily producing a good result. We would be happy to work with the subcommittee on developing a more effective approach.
While Title I of H.R. 4690 focuses on increasing resiliency and mitigating the consequences of climate change, it does not include a directive for the councils to evaluate the impacts of climate change on how they manage their fisheries … The climate crisis is real, and our fishermen are on the frontlines – Cape fishermen were changing their business plans to incorporate the northward migration of black seabass before the term climate-resilient fisheries was even coined. A new climate change national standard would require councils to consider the impacts on climate of any proposed conservation and management measure.
“(11) Conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, consider and incorporate observed and projected impacts of climate change on resource productivity and distribution” … At the end of Sec. 302(g)(1)(B) add the following: “In providing scientific advice, each scientific and statistical committee shall consider the impacts of climate change on stock productivity and distribution.”
H.R. 4690 Title II …
Sec. 204 would improve seafood marketing by requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and NOAA to work together to develop seafood marketing and education programs within NOAA. We suggest a different approach.
Rather than duplicate this expertise within NOAA, we would suggest NOAA work with the USDA to provide the information they need to begin purchasing more domestic seafood for food nutrition programs. NOAA expertise is important because wild-caught American seafood differs significantly from traditional agricultural products; soybeans can be grown almost anywhere, while most seafood species are limited to specific regions.
AMS Commodity Procurement Office should create a seafood program to work with NOAA and the seafood industry to (1) develop seafood products requirements and specifications, (2) promote and provide local seafood at regional scale to foodbanks, community food associations, and other entities like public schools and prisons, and (3) integrate more seafood into AMS purchases and identify marketing opportunities for the seafood industry. USDA has a proven track record in accomplishing these opportunities for the beef, chicken, and pork industries.
By way of example, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fishermen’s Alliance created a new product, a haddock chowder under the brand name “Small Boats, Big Taste.” We were able to offer more than 725,000 servings of this delicious chowder to food banks and pantries across the Northeast, while keeping fishermen on the water during a time of economic crisis. Yet even a regional program as robust as this has had a difficult time moving into the USDA procurement process, in large part because our fishermen, processors, and manufacturers cannot supply a single standardized product at national scale.
H.R. 4690 Title IV …
Fishermen’s Alliance and FCC view accountability as a key element of our management system. Unfortunately, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is behind in terms of advancing and employing new technologies. More than 15 years ago, members of the Fishermen’s Alliance conducted a pilot study demonstrating that cameras placed on our boats can be as effective as human observers. Regrettably, widespread use of electronic monitoring and other new technologies has yet to be achieved.
Sec. 409, entitled “Offshore Wind Collaboration,” requires the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Interior to enter into an agreement to fund additional stock assessments related to the development of offshore wind energy. Over the next two decades our marine ecosystem will be altered by the construction of dozens of offshore wind farms. I hope Sec. 409 will create a substantial fund capable of modernizing marine resource surveys and ecosystem assessments.
Areas the council has designated as essential fish habitat (EFH) are now being leased by BOEM (a federal agency) for large-scale power generation. Lucrative fishing grounds will be altered or lost and the fishing industry and council has little to no standing with the BOEM process beyond a consultation and comment period.
When all lease areas are built out what will the impacts be? Who is evaluating and mitigating the wholesale transformation of our nearshore resources? The agreement struck in Sec. 409 between Interior and Commerce should be written with total buildout in mind. Leaseholders should be bound to fund this agreement on an ongoing basis. The annual resource surveys should be industry-based in partnership with NOAA.
The Fishermen’s Alliance strongly supports the forage fish provisions included in Sec. 508 … To ensure conservation and management of river herring and shad, Sec. 508 directs the Secretary to add these stocks to the relevant fishery management plan.
Lastly, Sec. 509: … Working (years ago) with then-Congressman Gerry Studds, the MSA was amended to require that fines and penalties imposed against fishermen and fish processors for violations of the New England groundfish plan shall be used to enforce the management plan. Congressional intent was clear: use these funds to bolster enforcement efforts. But over the years, Administrations of both political parties have refused to follow the law. The clarification included in H.R. 4690 will ensure that additional resources are available for enforcement and monitoring of the groundfish plan.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments and we would be happy to provide any other information the subcommittee may require.
For those of you who want to dive deeper into these sometimes murky waters, a full version of the testimony I submitted is available here.