Editor's note: This story failed to include Congressman Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, as one of the co-sponsors of the bill by Congressman Jon Runyon to partially rewrite the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The other co-sponsors are Republicans Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, and Steve Southerland II, David Rivera and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all of Florida. The original story is below:
On the same day the Northeast fishing industry learned of impending drastic cutbacks in catch limits for next year, a draft reform of the law governing the industry — giving regulators more flexibility and fishermen more input — was filed with the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.
The dire catch limit projections, with cuts of up to 70 percent for cod, brought new pressure on the Obama administration Friday to declare its fisheries policies in the Northeast to have created an economic disaster in the state’s ports.
The House Natural Resources Committee bill has been given little chance of enactment before the end of the session current, but supporters hope to have it marked up for House floor action this fall.
The drafting of the bill and its filing with the committee underscores concern that the 2006 re-authorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act has had unintended consequences — that interpretations by federal fishery regulators have translated into draconian catch limit decisions with large uncertainty buffers that are devastating the recreational and commercial fishing industries.
The reduced catch limits on key stocks in the Northeast of more than 70 percent, announced as informal projections Thursday, were described as a potential death knell for many fishing businesses. In the past two years, the number of boats and crews have continued to shrink even as the gross value of landings has risen, according to figures released by NOAA earlier this week.
Many small boat businesses have been surrendering to bigger and better capitalized operations in a consolidation battle triggered by the beginning of catch share trading in May 2010.
The NOAA data shows that, over the past two years, the number of active vessels is down by 20.3 percent and crew positions are off 13.2 percent, even though the gross weight of landings has jumped 20.1 percent.
Responding to the projected cutbacks in landings next year, the Massachusetts Congressional Ocean Caucus Friday urged the Commerce Department to approve a pending request for a fisheries failure declaration, which was filed more than eight months ago by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Congressman Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat and the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, who is not typically allied with the Ocean Caucus members, is also now urging a disaster declaration.
“New England fishermen are being hit by a perfect storm of fewer fish, warmer waters, and competition from mislabled foreign seafood,” said Markey.
“We again ask that the federal government ... provide a disaster declaration for New England fishermen and fishing communities,” added Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, and Congressmen John Tierney, William Keating and Barney Frank. “We believe the evidence is now overwhelming in favor of such a declaration. “We have also asked for a meeting in Massachusetts with (NOAA’s) Acting Assistant Administrator Sam Rauch and stakeholders,” the lawmakers wrote, “to review the current science, fishing allocation process and to determine the options available for our fishermen and our fishing communities.”
The partial rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act featuring new exemptions from the basic 10-year rebuilding requirement for overfished stocks was drafted by committee staff at the behest of Chairman Doc Hastings.
Drawing from legislation filed by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, it was introduced late Thursday by Rep. Jon Runyon, R-New Jersey. Co-sponsors include Republicans Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, Steve Southerland II, David Rivera and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all of Florida.
Writing more flexibility into Magnuson has been the impetus for two tri-coastal national fishermen’s rallies at the U.S. Capitol, both in 2010 and this past March.
A key provision would allow the government to extend the 10-year rebuilding period for reportedly overfished stocks “to provide for the sustained participation of fishing communities or to minimze the economic impacts on such communities,” so long as the stock is on a “positive rebuilding trend.”
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last fall, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco admitted there was no scientific basis for the 10-year rebuilding requirement in Magnuson, but demurred when asked if she would support providing flexibility when the deadline creates economic hardship.
The legislation also attempts to ensure that new catch share programs emerge from industry consensus and become effective only by industry referendum. Twice, in 2011 and 2010, the Republican-controlled House has voted to bar the Obama administration from launching new catch share programs. Each time, the effort died in the Senate.
Both efforts originated in the office of Congressman Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, but also attracted extensive Democratic backing, including that of Tierney and Frank.
The bill would also requires the Secretary of Commerce to act within 60 days in response to the filing of a request for the declaration of a federal fisheries failure.
Such a filing was made by Gov. Deval Patrick last November covering the Massachusetts groundfishery. In the ensuing eight months, the administration has given the state no response.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.