The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee is pushing to finish a partial rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act before the August recess, the committee press secretary says.
Both houses of Congress are scheduled to stop work Aug. 6, and do not return for more than a month. Committee Press Secretary Crystal Feldman, however, said this week the goal was to have a bill that synthesizes reforms sought by several fishing industry advocates ready for the committee by that date.
If the deadline is met, the committee would have 30 working days, according to the House calendar, to approve the bill and send it to the full House before the end of the session.
The push in the Republican-controlled House would, at best, leave a marker for the 113th Congress that convenes in January after the national election. The Senate Commerce, Science and Justice Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing on a number of Magnuson reform bills.
Over the past two years, various approaches for helping both the recreational and commercial sides of the industry have gradually merged into a movement dedicated to seeing adjustments made in the Magnuson Act, the original and overriding fisheries management statute that directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to ensure sustainable stocks while maximizing fishermen’s output.
The Natural Resources Committee began work on the rewrite project in the aftermath of a national rally of fishing interests on the Capitol grounds in March, when more than two dozen senators and representatives spoke of the need for making the Magnuson statute less rigid.
In early April, Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., told the Times changes were in the works to ensure that NOAA makes “informed decisions based on sufficient scientific information.”
Last December, in his opening statement at a hearing on eight bills to modify Magnuson, Hastings said that NOAA and its eight regional fishery management councils “were being overly cautionary” in their hedging against uncertainty in setting “artificially low harvest levels.”
As the committee staff began its work on the bill in April, Feldman said some problems with fisheries management caused not by flaws in the statute but by NOAA’s faulty interpretation of the law, which made fixing the law more difficult.
Feldman said Wednesday the draft of the modified bill would reflect the issues that were raised at the committee hearing.
On Tuesday, a bi-partisan group of nine representatives — including John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann — wrote to Hastings and Edward Markey, the ranking Democrat from Malden, to urge the committee to “take action on fisheries management reform as soon as possible.”
The writers, including Reps. Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford, and William Keating, whose district includes the ports of the South Shore and Cape Cod, said there was sense of urgency to their letter because “fewer than 30 legislative days (remained) before the November election.”
”As was clear at the hearing the committee held in December,” the represenatives said, “our fishermen continue to face economic hardships as a result of drastic policies set forth in the current Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act. We believe that this should not be the case,” Tierney and his colleagues wrote.
Expressing the view of many conservation groups, which oppose changing Magnuson, Markey, a Malden Democrat, has said he sees no reason to alter Magnuson, which was rewritten in 2006 and by tradition would be ready for another rewrite in 2016. Approved originally in 1976, the original Magnuson Act established the 200 mile exclusive economic zone, and achieved its aim of ridding U.S. waters of foreign fishing vessels.
The conservation need was seriously introduced in 1996 with a provision to require 10-year rebuilding regimens for overfished stocks, and in 2006 hard catch limits were added, along with giving the scientific side of the government the right to set those limits.
As the provisions mixed and interlocked, catch limits began to tumble as the 10-year rebuilding deadlines neared. The entire New England inshore fishery faces a possible shutdown next May due to the failure of the rebuilding plan for Gulf of Maine cod.
The main flexibility bills were filed by New Jersey congressmen, Democrat Frank Pallone and Republican Jon Runyan.
Joining Tierney, Frank, and Keating, all Massachusetts Democrats, in writing to urge action from Hastings’s committee were Pallone, Reps. Frank C. Guinta, R-N.H., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org