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March 11, 2013

Magnuson fishing mandates up for review

The fourth 10-year revision and re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act is about to get underway.

The process will highlight different perspectives on the need for writing flexibility into the law — which was the subject of two national rallies at the Capitol, one in 2010 and another in 2012 — from the team of Congressman John Tierney and former Congressman Barney Frank, advocates of the need for flexibility on the one hand, to Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Ed Markey on the other, who does not share their view of the law as an inflexible impediment to a revitalized industry.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, and a Democratic candidate in the special election to succeed former Sen. John Kerry, Markey, a Malden Democrat from a landlocked district, will be a key figure in the rewriting of the law. Unlike Tierney and Frank, however, Markey has repeatedly said he believes the Magnuson-Stevens Act has more than enough flexibility, essentially putting him in lockstep with the White House and environmental activists.

The House Natural Resources Committee holds its first hearing into the future nature of the original fishery conservation and management act on Wednesday, with nation’s oldest fishery, the Northeast groundfishery in shambles and bipartisan sentiment strong for writing enough flexibility into the law to give harvesters a reasonable chance to survive while stocks in duress are rebuilt.

The hearing, to be conducted by Chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington state Republican, will involve an invited group of witnesses — but just one New Englander, John Pappalardo, executive director of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association. The 10 a.m. hearing will be available by webcast on the committee website.

The hearings are beginning earlier than in past decades. Enacted in 1976, Magnuson-Stevens established the 200-mile exclusive economic zone and banished foreign factory trawlers that were cleaning out stocks of the Northwest Atlantic that had been worked by Europeans since the 14th century. The law was modified and reauthorized in 1986, ’96 and 2006.

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