Senate MSA reauthorization a step back for fishing communities
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In July, the House passed H.R. 200 the "Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act," a much needed update of federal fisheries law that allows for both sustainable fisheries management and the long-term preservation of our nation’s fishing communities. Unfortunately, its counterpart bill making its way through the Senate would likely have the opposite effect.

The Senate bill, S.1520, or the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018,” introduces changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA)—the main law governing U.S. fisheries—that would impose increasingly burdensome regulations on American fishermen and undermine H.R. 200's goal of increasing flexibility in fisheries management.

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Of particular concern are provisions contained in Section 104 of the bill, “Rebuilding Overfished Fisheries.“ Rather than giving fisheries managers more flexibility in how they manage and rebuild fish stocks, these new requirements added to S.1520 make rebuilding requirements more stringent and onerous.

For example, one of the most disturbing changes is the requirement that Regional Fishery Management Councils achieve a 75 percent chance of rebuilding a stock if that stock has not rebuilt in as short a timeframe as possible. What that means in practice is that regulators will be forced to set quotas according to a rigid, predetermined timeframe, rather than one based around scientific evidence or biological necessity. This will lead to quotas that are much lower than they need to be to sustainably manage the species, and fishing communities being unnecessarily hurt in the process.

In a similar vein, the bill also removes existing language from MSA that allows fisheries managers to alter rebuilding timeframes if a species is depleted or unable to recover due to “ecological” issues that are not related to fishing activity. This would prevent managers from modifying their plans to adapt to changing environmental conditions and other unforeseen circumstances.

Taken together, these changes would further force the Councils to manage species according to an arbitrary timetable, rather than thorough a plan that best takes into account prevailing biological and economic conditions. This will result in increased hardships for fishing communities, with little additional conservation benefits.

The bill also introduces new language on the issue of quota allocation between different fishery stakeholders in mixed-use fisheries. While this is already done routinely through the Council process, the bill adds “ecological” considerations to the policy of allocation, in addition to current consideration of economic and social factors. This is an obvious attempt to create allocation policy with the sole purpose of undermining commercial fisheries and altering allocations.

In addition, S.1520 does not include the same allocation language from H.R. 200, which would require that, when evaluating the full economic impact of commercial fisheries, managers consider the full seafood chain of custody. While this may sound like a minor change, this language is the only way to do a full and fair economic impact comparison study between commercial and recreational fisheries, and thus the only way to arrive at a fair allocation.

We are eager to support a reauthorization of MSA that maintains the strong fisheries management that has made American fisheries so successful over the past 40 years, while also allowing our fishing communities to remain economically vibrant. Unfortunately, in its current form, S.1520 meets neither of these goals.

Greg DiDomenico is the Executive Director of the Garden State Seafood Association. Diane Pleschner-Steele is Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.