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Concerns Surface Over Reauthorization of Federal Fishing Law

Environmental and commercial fishing interests have concerns about a new draft proposal to reauthorize the Magnuson Stevens Act which governs the commercial and recreational harvest of fisheries in federal waters.

The Magnuson Stevens Act was first passed in 1976 primarily to address the problem of foreign illegal fishing and to promote the industry. Reauthorizations of the law in 1996 and in 2006 shifted focus toward adopting regulations to prevent further overfishing of important marine species and ensure the future viability of the industry. 

Commercial fishing interests have taken a financial hit from those changes, but also helped populations of fish like red snapper rebound.  Last week, members of the House Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on a draft reauthorization of the law proposed by committee chair Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.  Hastings has said his proposal is intended to add transparency and flexibility to the law.

“We’ve got some serious concerns with the legislation that was introduced recently,” said U.S. Oceans Director for the Pew Charitable Trusts, Holly Binns.  “It would allow overfishing to continue on the most deleted fish populations and that, in and of itself, is not good for the fish and it’s not good for fishermen…And it would complicate management of snappers and grouper in the Gulf of Mexico and make these rules really confusing.” 

Binns says Hastings’ proposal would also make government-funded scientific findings off limits to the public.  The Pew Charitable Trusts and Audubon Florida came out with a report last fall titled, “Fins and Feathers:  Why little fish are a big deal to Florida’s coastal waterbirds,” which points to the need for more protections for the harvest of forage fish or bait fish which are an important food source for coastal birds and larger predator fish.

Additionally, commercial seafood representatives also urge caution with the Hastings draft proposal.  “In the past we’ve tried to think about ways to be flexible about ways to rebuild stocks and all that’s happened is we’ve further eroded the ecological base and sustainability of fisheries,” said Captain’s Finest Seafood CEO William Ward.  Ward also serves on the Gulf Fishermen’s Association Board of Directors.  “So we’ve got to be very, very careful.  Red Snapper has come back, but we could very easily reverse all the benefits of the Red Snapper fishery in the last 10 years within the matter of a few years.”

The Hastings draft is a starting point for what’s expected to be much debate ahead in the House and will eventually include merging the bill with a version from the Senate.