Flexibility in Fisheries Management is Key Piece of Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Process

This post comes to us from Tyler Mac Innis, the Emerson National Hunger Fellow at the National Family Farm Coalition.

Things move slowly here. 

On May 29, the House Natural Resources Committee marked up its version of the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) and passed the bill to the House floor. 

The move comes as a key first step to the reauthorization process, though there are still many more to come. While a definitive timeline is unclear, it seems that any sort of finalized version will take some time. 

Last week’s reshuffling in GOP House leadership shocked many in Washington and delayed many pieces of legislation slated to be voted on before MSA would be brought to the floor. In the Senate, Magnuson Stevens has yet to make it out of sub-committee.

While we may not know when the debate will happen in the House, we do have some insight into what issues will be debated on the floor. Central to the debate in the Natural Resources Committee mark up was how to increase flexibility in fisheries management. 

Representatives from both parties and both coasts discussed the need to increase flexibility in managing fish stocks and raised concerns about how the bill does that in its current form.

Catch limits remain in the House version of the bill. Councils would not be required to develop catch limits for ecosystem component species, species with a lifecycle of one year, and stocks for which “more than half of a single-year class will complete their life cycle in less than 18 months and fishing mortality will have little impact on the stock.” 

An amendment offered by Rep. Southerland (R-FL), and agreed to by the committee would prohibit the Secretary of Commerce from counting illegally caught fish against the total catch of the fishery.

Catch shares also remain in place, though the bill includes a pilot program for a referendum process. The proposed pilot program would apply to the New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico Councils only. If passed, the pilot program would require any fishery management plan or amendment that creates a catch share program for a fishery to be approved by a majority vote of permit holders. 

An amendment offered by Rep. Southerland and agreed to by the committee, would prohibit Gulf of Mexico catch shares from being sold or traded to entities in other sectors.

Management councils need robust data in order to set accurate annual catch limits.  The House version of MSA contains provisions to increase data collection by requiring the Secretary of Commerce to create regulations governing the use of electronic monitoring of fisheries. 

Acknowledging concerns around data collection, the bill includes provisions to protect confidential data which is defined as trade secrets, proprietary information, observer information, and “commercial or financial information the disclosure of which is likely to result in harm to the competitive position of the person that submitted the information to the [Secretary of Commerce].”

The National Family Farm Coalition, along with the Fish Locally Collaborative, will continue to monitor the reauthorization process. Click here to read the House version of the bill. To watch the Natural Resources Committee mark up click here. The mark up begins around the 43:00 minute mark.