Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags each year, which equates to more than 300 bags per person per year! Errant plastic bags find their way to our nation’s waters, adding to the estimated eight million tons of trash entering the world’s ocean each year. Just in time for International Plastic Bag Free Day on July 3rd, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed S. 3086, the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2016.
Introduced by Senator Cory Booker (NJ), the bill would further amend the Marine Debris Act of 2006 to promote international action to reduce marine debris. The same committee also passed the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act of 2016 (S. 3059), introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan (AK) and Maria Cantwell (WA). The bill would reauthorize and expand the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Response Grant Program (the main funding source for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured marine mammals, such as orcas, seals, sea lions, and sea otters) by increasing authorized funding for the program to $7 million annually for fiscal years 2017-2022.
Additionally, the Senate Commerce Committee passed two bills related to fishing. S. 3099, the Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016, was cosponsored by Floridians from both sides of the aisle, Ranking Member Bill Nelson and Senator Marco Rubio. That legislation aims to preserve and enhance saltwater fishing opportunities for recreational fishers by blocking the National Park Service (NPS) from forming a 10,000 acre fishing-free (except for invasive lionfish) marine reserve in Biscayne National Park. The NPS has spent 15 years planning the project, and 90 percent of the 43,000 public comments submitted also favored this reserve. However, the Senators feel that other stakeholders were not adequately included in the decision-making process. While their bill would derail the preserve and require revisiting the complex local fishery management plan, Ranking Member Nelson stated that it would ensure that the agency “uses the best available science moving forward.” Lastly, Sens. Sullivan and Cantwell again teamed up, this time with Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK), on the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act, S. 3087, which would establish a new committee to facilitate fishing industry input to the National Marine Fisheries Service research and development grantmaking process, which totaled $11 million in 2016.