The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee is drafting "a comprehensive" change to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a fisheries management law, in an attempt to ensure that NOAA makes "informed decisions based on sufficient scientific information," Chairman Doc Hastings has told the Times.
Incorporating elements from a suite of eight bills vetted by the committee last December, the federal legislation has been in construction by committee staff for some time — before a national fishermen's rally at the Capitol last month and an April 3 letter to the committee from 21 House members. Those signers included John Tierney, who represents Cape Ann, and Barney Frank, whose district includes New Bedford.
A mix of about two dozen federal lawmakers of both parties and houses of Congress including Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, spoke to the rally of the need for writing flexibility into the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Along with rewriting parts of and writing inserts to Magnuson, the committee is reported to be struggling with the problem of trying to fix misinterpretations of the overriding fisheries management law by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Crystal Feldman, the committee press secretary, said some problems with fisheries management have been created by NOAA's interpretation of the law and not necessarily by the law itself, and that is harder to fix legislatively.
Similar complaints are at the core of a lawsuit initiated by the fishing ports of New Bedford and Gloucester and industry interests from Maine to North Carolina. That appeal is now before the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
In a reply brief filed Wednesday, the plaintiffs wrote that NOAA considers the law "a moving target."
"Where ... Congress deliberately crafted mechanisms to protect fishermen, the agency is not free to implement regulations rendering those protections meaningless," the plaintiffs' attorneys wrote.