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June 28, 2013

Letter: Congress must get serious on Magnuson

To the editor:

The passing of Richard Gaines, investigative reporter for the Gloucester Daily Times, silenced a voice that illuminated governmental excess in regulating the fishing industry.

Thinking about Richard’s untimely death, I wrote the following memorial on the future of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that governs fisheries management in the U.S.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act is scheduled to be reauthorized this fall. Rumor has it that a material reauthorization is unlikely because anticipated changes are anticipated to be controversial.

Failing to materially reauthorize the act is a serious lapse in public policy. The present version of the act does not protect the fishing industry and the public from governmental excess, because, as a practical matter, the current form of the act does not ensure the operation of the checks and balances among the legislative, judicial, and executive branches.

Contrary to constitutional intent, the fisheries are regulated by the bureaucracy with little real input from the legislative and judicial branches of government.

This dysfunction among the branches of government is bad for the fishing industry and the public. Right now, of 20 stocks of groundfish, 11 stocks are claimed to be overfished while 10 stocks are claimed to be subject to overfishing.

At the same time, however, roughly 50,000 tons of fish that could be caught without overfishing are not caught. The underfishing of 50,000 tons of fish is a waste of $150 million at the dock, or $600 million by the time the fish leave the economy.

In September 2012 the acting Secretary of Commerce formally declared the fishery a disaster. Despite this declaration, there has been no governmental reaction or policy to mitigate the disaster. And the beat goes on. The Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has just filed a complaint arguing that NOAA is managing fisheries with little cognizance of the National Standards of the Magnuson Stevens Act.

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