POLITICO PRO Article
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - POLITICO PRO Article
By MATT YURUS | 6/1/15 5:00 AM EDT | Updated 6/1/15 8:04 AM EDT
Rep. Don Young wants to change the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach to the U.S.’s
16 fisheries, but environmental groups believe the Alaska Republican’s bill will lead to the
decimation of many fish species.
The House on Monday will debate and then vote on Young’s bill to reauthorize and amend the
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act for the first time in nine years.
The legislation passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources along party lines late
last month and is set to be one of the first bills taken up by the lower chamber during a busy week
following the holiday break.
Young’s bill, which has been in the works for more than four years, seeks to provide the nation’s
eight regional management councils who oversee the fisheries with more autonomy to decide
annual catch limits and extend the timeline from which overfished stocks must be rebuilt.
“There is a need to improve upon the existing regulatory framework so that all regions are
thriving both ecologically and economically. That’s what this bill does,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-
Utah), the committee’s chairman and one of three Republican co-sponsors for the legislation,
told POLITICO in an email.
Enacted in 1976 with bipartisan support, the Magnuson-Stevens law governs ocean fishing as far
as 200 nautical miles from America’s shores. Environmental groups say the law and the changes
made when it was last reauthorized in 2006 are responsible for helping restore the numbers for
37 species of fish, including the Gag Grouper, Golden Tilefish and Butterfish.
The Environmental Defense Fund credits the changes made in 2006 for the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration’s finding that only 10 domestic and four international stocks of
the 41 identified as subject to overfishing limits remain so in 2014. “Better conservation has led
to increased U.S. seafood sales impacts that reached $58 billion in 2012,” the group adds.
But the proponents of Young’s bill say the 2006 changes also contributed to a weakness already
inherent in the nearly 40-year-old fisheries law: It doesn’t recognize that every fishery has a
unique set of challenges.
The regional management fisheries councils were forced by the last reauthorization to adopt a
model for determining catch limits developed by the council managing Alaska’s fisheries. The
“Alaska Model,” as it is commonly called, is considered the world’s preeminent stock
management plan, but it doesn’t take into account the inability of some regional councils to
retrieve adequate and timely data concerning the status of fisheries, Young believes. This has led
to councils unnecessarily limiting the fishing industry’s harvest opportunities, resulting in unjust
punishments on those in the fishing community and consumers, he wrote in defense of his bill in
a recent op-ed for the Alaska Dispatch News.
Young’s bill would instead create exceptions to when annual catch limits need to be established,
allowing managers to consider environmental conditions and economic impacts. Proponents,
including the commercial fishers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, argue that this flexibility is
necessary because the science is insufficient to always accurately prescribe annual catch limits
and meet rigid rebuilding timelines.
Another problem that Young’s bill would fix is the rigid 10-year timeline within which the law
requires all fisheries to rebuild their stocks to the maximum sustainable yield — the largest long-
term average catch that can be kept from a stock under prevailing environmental and fishery
conditions, said James Odlin, president of Atlantic Trawlers Fishing Inc., a commercial fishing
business in Maine. During this rebuilding period, fishing can continue but at a reduced level.
“We can’t predict anything 10 years out,” said Odlin, who reports having worked as a commercial
fisherman for roughly 40 years.
Mike Leonard, director for ocean resource policy for the American Sportfishing Association, said
the bill is also “tremendously important for the recreational fishing industry.”
Under the bill, the National Academy of Sciences would study the South Atlantic and Gulf of
Mexico to better inform those councils how to allocate catch limits between recreational and
commercial fishermen, and managers would also be able and required to periodically review
those limits. This is a welcomed change from the previous subjective standard, which allocated
the catch limits based on what was deemed “fair and equitable,” Leonard said.
Young’s bill, HR 1335, is endorsed by the National Restaurant Association, the Center for Coastal
Conservation, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and 100 other groups, notes a
statement by the House Committee on Natural Resources. The Seafood Harvesters of America, a
trade association that represents 16 commercial fishing organizations on both coasts, has
declined to weigh in with specific praise or criticism for Young’s bill, saying only “we don’t see the
need to reauthorize Magnuson with substantial changes.”
Standing against Young’s bill are the Environmental Defense Fund and at least 35 other
environmental groups, who argue it would destabilize the long-term sustainability of America’s
fisheries in exchange for short-term economic gains. They sent a letter to every member of the
House last week urging a vote against the bill, saying it would replace a model based on science
with vague standards, including waiving quota requirements in exchange for “flexible standards.”
Shannon Carroll, fisheries policy director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, takes
issue with language in the bill that would eliminate the requirement to rebuild overfished stock
“as soon as possible” and add rebuilding exceptions for stocks that are affected by “unusual
“While these ‘flexibility’ measures may provide for some limited and short-term economic
benefits,” he said, “we know that in the long-term, such an approach creates a downward spiral,
ultimately reducing harvest opportunities.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, is prepared
to vote against Young’s bill on Monday. He said it “goes out of its way to undermine bedrock
conservation laws. The last thing we need to do is rewrite whole sections of a law that’s improving
the productivity and profitability of our fisheries now more than ever.”
Unlike the previous two reauthorizations of the law, which were accomplished in the “best
tradition of bipartisan, collaborative policymaking,” Young’s is a partisan bill, Grijalva said.
The Senate has not yet introduced a companion bill. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reintroduced his
Florida Fisheries Improvement Act last month to protect the state’s interests when it comes time
to amend the MSA. His bill also loosens rebuilding timelines and favors recreational fishermen.