As he promised the gathering at a national fishermen's rally in March, U.S. Charles Schumer, D-N,Y., has secured a commitment for the Senate Commerce Committee to hold oversight hearings this fall on problems with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
The announcement from the New York senator came last week, after he gained the commitment of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Mark Begich of Alaska.
In a statement, Schumer said he hoped the hearings "will give a national voice" to concerns "about faulty science and excessively strict quotas that are decimating the industry."
U.S. Sen. John Kerry is the senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. He has proposed his own legislation, to restore a dedicated funding source for fisheries research and development from seafood import quotas, but also has acknowledged the need to make changes to Magnuson.
Also supporting Magnunson reform is Sen. Scott Brown.
In April, the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee, where the reform movement is stronger, began drafting "a comprehensive" change to Magnuson, the overriding fisheries management law, in an attempt to ensure that NOAA makes "informed decisions based on sufficient scientific information," Chairman Doc Hastings told the Times.
The presidential election and the Democratic control of the Senate all but insures that no substantive action on a rewrite of Magnuson will occur before the expiration of the 112th Congress.
House passage of a Magnuson reform bill is considered the highest goal for this year of industry leaders who organized the rally last March and have been pressing to write flexibility into Magnuson.
But the intiatives by Schumer and a bipartisan, coalition of reformers in the House, suggests progress by fishing interests who believe that the 110th Congress, in 2006, produced a document that impedes the harvest of fish stocks at optimal sustainable yield, the expressed purpose of the law.
Schumer used the March 21 tri-coastal rally of commercial and recreational fishing interests outside the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington to give his word that he would lobby "my colleagues on the Commerce Committee to put the bill up for a hearing ... because we need an open debate now."
Many though not all fishing interests have come to believe that elements of the Magnuson reauthorizations of 1996 and 2006 combine to engineer unnecessarily allowances of landings in the management of the fisheries by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Resistance to writing more flexibility into Magnuson comes from a part of the conservation sector led by the Pew Environment Group and grant recipients from the Pew Charitable Trusts. These forces and their allies in Congress and the Senate are committed to rebuilding overbuilt stocks as the overriding aim, notwithstanding economic and social hardships created in fishing communities such as Gloucester and others across New England, the Atlantic states and beyond.
The Magnuson Act requires most overfished stocks rebuilt on a tight deadline and combined with new requirements for hard catch limits written into Magnuson in the 2006 revision, have severely constructed the industry, especially in the Atlantic and Gulf regions.
Congressmen John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, and Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford, have been committed to the reform movement. Frank has said he can't understand why it seems like a "moral" crusade to have the stocks built at particular dates, rather than at a more flexible pace that would not harm the port communities dependent on fishing commerce.
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 include Tierney and Frank.
Along with rewriting parts of and writing inserts to Magnuson, the House Natural Resources 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 cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and industry interests from Maine to North Carolina. That appeal is now before the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.