Magnuson Stevens Act Re-authorization


As  noted in earlier posts, the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) is a comprehensive federal law that establishes the rules and regulations governing US federal fisheries.  The Act was originally passed in 1976 and has been re-authorized twice, in 1996 and 2006.

Originally, the bill was passed with the intent of establishing a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, where US fishermen could reap the benefits of America’s lush fishing grounds uninterrupted by foreign fishing operations.  The justification behind the passage of the 200-mile limit was based on the principle that the waters off American shores are territoriality an extension of its federal boarders. Therefore,  US citizens should have rights over this open water in common, along with everything that swims in it- which could and should be harvested for public consumption.

The passage of the 200-mile limit was successful and many countries around the world followed precedent, creating their own domestic fisheries.  In the process this federal fishery boarder, the US government- specifically the Commerce Department- simultaneously took on the responsibility of managing what happens within these waters.  Over the years, this has meant that the Magnuson Stevens Act has grown increasingly complex as it attempts to balance and regulate the fish that is harvested within federal waters.   The Commerce Department and it’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has often struggled with the formulation and implementation of policies that protect the livelihoods of fishermen while ensuring the sustainability of domestic fish stocks for future generations and the health of the ocean.

Back in 2006, the focus of the re-authorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act was to end, once and for all, the unyielding issue of overfishing.  In an attempt to permanently bury this controversial problem the US Government implemented some of the strictest legal mandates governing federal fisheries to date, calling for the end of overfishing by 2011 and establishing concrete timetables for rebuilding key domestic stocks with firm deadlines. While the principle behind these mandates was sound and noble, NOAA has failed to successfully implement policies and management strategies to achieve this goal.  Furthermore, in the process of attempting to end overfishing, the strict rebuilding time-frames have crippled the economic viability of the domestic fishing fleet.  Industry members and advocates argue that NOAA never possessed the data and tools needed to establish these strict deadlines and that the agency’s over-zealousness has permanently dismantled the US’s historic fishing industry to the point of no return.

The 2006 re-authorization to the Magnuson Stevens act officially expired in 2013, which means the legislation is currently up for a new re-authorization. Spear-heading this effort is Representative Doc Hastings (R- Washington) who chairs the House’s Committee on Natural Resources.  Back at the end of May, Hastings and the Committee were successful in passing a bill that would re-authorize the MSA with amendments.  Similar legislation is not currently active in the Senate. Given the failures of the rebuilding time-frames and their catastrophic impacts on the fishing industry, the focus of the current re-authorization is centered on the following principles :

-Provides science-based flexibility measures for fishery managers when rebuilding depleted fisheries

-Provides common sense flexibility measures for fishery managers when setting annual catch limits

-Provides more transparency for fishermen and others in both science and management

-Provides a schedule for obtaining better fishery dependent and fishery independent data especially for data poor fisheries and provides greater protection for confidential information submitted to regulatory agencies

-Encourages and promotes cooperative research projects where scientists work with fishermen to develop sound scientific information

-Allows fishery managers to take environmental conditions and economic impacts of their decisions into account when establishing harvest levels

-Allows fishermen in regions where catch share programs have been controversial to have a say in whether a new catch share program will be implemented and to be provided better information when considering such a program

-Requires NOAA to provide better accountability on how fees are collected and used

-Clarifies the role of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in relationship to other Federal statutes

-Authorizes appropriations for an additional five fiscal years at current funding level

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Any additional news on the re-authorization to the Magnuson Stevens Act will be made available here in future postings.