“We’re off to a good start. Three good bills.”
“Two good bills.”
“Two out of three’s not bad.”
The conversation heard briefly on a hot microphone after adjournment of a Tuesday hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee reflected the differing viewpoints and occasional agreement over the course of the hour. The hearing in the Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans covered two bills dealing with hydropower production and one involving fishery management.
The lone controversial bill, the Transparent Summer Flounder Quotas Act (H.R.1411) would exempt the Atlantic summer flounder fishery from a recent quota reduction based on a stock assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that indicates flounder populations are shrinking. Many local fishers claim flounder populations are instead flourishing. With this bill, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) would be required to manage the fishery under original, more lenient seasonal quotas until federal fishery managers conduct a new study. Chairman Doug Lamborn (CO-5) claimed fishers, many of whom question the government’s science used to impose catch limits, need updated science and transparency and called the hearing the beginning of the effort to take “a closer look at how we can fix what many have suggested is a broken federal fisheries management system.” While expressing sympathy for fishing communities that have seen reduced quotas, Ranking Member Jared Huffman (CA-2) held a polar opposite view, calling the bill a step in the wrong direction that leaves decisions about acceptable catch limits up to Congress rather than to the scientific and fisheries experts. He called the scientific process that indicated flounder numbers were critically low already transparent and warned that the fisheries management process is undermined when exceptions are made for individual species. Mr. Robert Beal (Executive Director, ASMFC) highlighted the risk of using 2016 regulations to manage the 2017 fishery (as H.R. 1411 would do), saying “this approach carries an inherent risk of further reducing the summer flounder population and, ultimately, fishing opportunities in future years.” While “two out of three’s not bad,” it’s clear that there’s a partisan split over fisheries management, and more hearings on the topic can be expected in the future.