The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee began the lengthy process of hearings Wednesday, leading to an intended update of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s primary law for managing the nation’s fisheries, with widespread consensus among witnesses on the need for better and more timely scientific stock assessments.
But among three Massachusetts congressmen — including the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Ed Markey — there was no consensus on the need for a rewrite of the law to give the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration more flexibility in writing rebuilding plans for overfished species.
In written statements to the committee, Congressmen John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, and William Keating, who represents Cape Cod and the ports along Massachusetts Bay, both underscored the need for greater flexibility. These views were in line with those of retired Congressman Barney Frank, who represented New Bedford before deciding against running again last November in a reconfigured district that did not include that port city.
Markey — who avoided the issue of flexibility in prepared opening comments, and instead hammered the Republicans for blocking fisheries disaster funding for the Northeast groundfishery at the end of the last session — made clear in a statement to the Times last week that he believed Magnuson was sufficiently flexible.
”It is flexible enough that when Massachusetts fishermen and elected officials including myself asked for carryover of unused quota from this year to next, the answer was yes,” he said in an email last week. Markey, of Malden, is dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation and his district includes the coastal communities of Revere and Winthrop
“It is flexible enough that when my colleagues and I requested that NOAA cover the cost of at-sea observers, the answer was yes,:” he wrote. “It is flexible enough that over half of the fish stocks managed in U.S. waters have rebuilding timelines longer than the act’s baseline 10-year horizon. It is even flexible enough to authorize the declaration of fishery economic disasters, making affected communities eligible to receive federal relief finds in their time of need.