Fisheries Bills Swim Towards House Floor

2018-01-09T17:19:29+00:00 December 18, 2017|
(Credit: NOAA)

(Credit: NOAA)

What It Was

The House Natural Resources Committee held a markup of 15 bills including two on fisheries— Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 200) and RED SNAPPER Act (H.R. 3588). Both pieces of legislations passed by votes of 23-17 and 22-16, respectively.

Why It Matters

Ocean health hinges on sustainable use of resources, including fisheries, which also serve as a valuable resource for humans (e.g. food, medicine, tourism, and recreation). The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA; PL 109-479) is our nation’s primary law governing fisheries management and has rebuilt dozens of fish populations over the last 41 years. Current reauthorization efforts have been highly partisan and aim to recognize human economic gain for the first time; during this process, it’s critical that changes to the law build on its history of success.

Key Points

H.R. 200: This bill would reauthorize the MSA, the bedrock of U.S. fisheries management, through 2022. While previous reauthorizations in 1996 and 2006 saw vast bipartisan cooperation, there has been little across-the-aisle collaboration this time.

Republicans view the bill favorably, especially its focus on maximum catch, and believe use of third party data will show larger fish populations and increase catch limits. They also approve of the decrease in regulations in in favor of fishing. Democrats say HR. 200 will weaken the MSA, reduce the quality of data, and increase the potential for overfishing.

H.R. 200 would change the language on decreased populations to include “overfished” (reduction due to fishing) and “depleted” (reduction due to reasons other than fishing); allow for consideration of economic needs when setting catch limits; reduce or eliminate population rebuilding plans; allow some fisheries to be exempt from annual catch limits; and require NOAA to use science collected from other experts, including regional fisheries management councils, state government, and universities.

Several amendments offered by both parties failed, including one to strike section 307 (which undermines the Antiquities Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and the Endangered Species Act by reducing federal agencies’ oversight). Amendments that passed included ones banning shark feeding in federal waters off Florida, requiring conservation and management measures be based on the best scientific information available, recognizing cultural fishing practices on Guam and Hawaii, and prohibiting wetland restoration areas from being deemed essential fish habitat.

Democrats voiced opposition to voting on the legislation and urged Chairman Bishop to table the committee vote until further bipartisan language could be reached. The chairman refused, saying the bill is not final and there are opportunities for improvement before it goes to the House floor, during the Senate process, and through conference committee. He also stated all letters received from stakeholders and environmental groups would be taken into consideration. Chairman Emeritus Don Young stated, “We will still continue to work with those that wish to work with us and ensure nothing in this bill has unintended consequences.”

H.R. 3588: Private anglers in the Gulf of Mexico have requested their portion of the red snapper fishery be state managed. This legislation would do that while also expanding recreational fisheries access up to 25 miles offshore and increasing stakeholder inclusion for management of the species.

Supporters of the bill believe population assessments from NOAA that set the recreational fishing season (three days in 2017) data are outdated and insufficient and advocate that regional catch data should be utilized.

Opponents fear overfishing and undermining the MSA but voiced willingness to work across the aisle. Representatives Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) and Jared Huffman (CA-2) acknowledged the legislation’s potential and pointed out that West Coast states are able to manage Dungeness crab fisheries, so it is possible for Gulf states to have similar authority.

Quotable

H.R. 200:

“This legislation will improve the management process by allowing regional fisheries to develop plans that match the needs of their area. Ultimately, this bill updates the Magnuson-Stevens Act to ensure a proper balance between the biological needs of fish stocks and the economic needs of fishermen and coastal communities” – Chairman Emeritus Don Young (AK-At Large)

“H.R. 200 as written unfortunately contains a number of provisions that I fear would weaken our gold standard sustainable fisheries law making it even more difficult if we pass it now to rebuild fish stocks and prevent overfishing.” – Representative Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)

H.R. 3358:

“[Red snapper] are probably the poster child for what can go wrong when you have bad science and ridged management practices. What they have done for recreational fishermen is simply unacceptable” – Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-1)

“The use of state science, that is much more robust in terms of fish counts and stock assessment, [would] help sustainably manage the fisheries while ensuring the proper balance amongst the various demands of [stakeholders].” – Representative Garret Graves (LA-6)

“There are real problems with the shortened season and spotty data that support management of [the red snapper] fishery.” – Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)

Next Steps

The bills will be sent to the House floor; if passed they will go to the Senate.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

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