The Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs Federal fisheries management and conservation, is set to expire in September. The process to renew the Act got started Wednesday in Congress with a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The Magnuson-Stevens act was a monumental piece of legislation that has been credited with saving and protecting many of the commercial fisheries that take place in federal waters including the massive fisheries for pollock, crab, cod and other species in the Bering Sea. The Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is Representative Doc Hastings from Washington who began Wednesday's hearing with some initial comments about the first hearing of the new Congress on the reauthorization process. He observed that the last reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act was in 2006 and during the last Congress there were a number of proposals to change the act, including to add additional transparency in the "Fisheries Management Council" process and to further define catch share management programs and tools. Representative Hastings stressed that during the reauthorization process the Natural Resources Committee will examine the need for better data collection.
Wednesday's initial committee hearing included the testimony of a couple of men who represent entities with a large presence in the federal fisheries off the coast of Alaska. Bob Dooley is the President of United Catcher Boats, which is trade association of 70 commercial fishing vessels that work in fisheries like the pollock and crab fisheries in the Bering Sea. He labeled the Magnuson-Stevens Act as an excellent law but he did outline several way in which United Catcher Boats believes the law can be improved. Dooley spoke to the need for better data collection and outlined some of the ways industry helps including industry-funded observers and surveys and the charter work that the commercial fishing industry does for fisheries scientists.
Among the members of the House Natural Resources Committee is Congressman Don Young. Shortly after Wednesday's hearing Congressman Young issued a statement confirming that he supports the effort to reauthorize the Act and he is encouraging all stakeholders to weigh in on how to improve the legislation.
Among the stakeholders with an interest in the reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act is Trident Seafood's, which is one of the largest seafood processors in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The company was represented at Wednesday's hearing by Chief Legal Officer Joe Plesha. He spoke to the controversial topic of rationalization and noted that Trident supports the concept of catch shares or quota going not just to fishermen but to processors as well. He says many of the current rationalization systems don't recognize the investments made by the seafood processing segment in fisheries. Plesha then went into great detail about how a legal opinion from NOAA in 2009 found that the Magnuson-Stevens Act did not authorize harvester-processor cooperatives and he hoped that the issue will be addressed during this year's reauthorization effort.
It's anticipated that there will be additional hearing related to the proposed reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The committee process in Congress is not the only source of information that will be used to update the Act. The 8 regional fishery management councils are scheduled to hold a conference in May on managing the nation's fisheries and reports on the Act are expected from the General Accounting Office, the Department of Commerce, and the National Academy of Sciences.