COMMENTARY: 40 years after Magnuson-Stevens, not all promises kept

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act turned 40 last week and federal and state fishery managers marked that event with an opinion piece in the Alaska Dispatch News on April 12 extolling the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its implementation in Alaska as a “global model of sustainability.”

As the authors point out, the Magnuson-Stevens Act sets up a “transparent governing process” intended to ensure that “science is behind every fishery management decision” in Alaska.

Indeed, the Magnuson-Stevens Act sets up national standards ensuring that all fisheries are managed to achieve “optimum yield from each fishery” with management decisions “based on the best scientific information available,” and guided by carefully considered fishery management plans.

We can all find common ground in recognizing the benefits associated with management under the Act, as well as many of the successes of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the council) and NOAA Fisheries in ensuring the long-term stewardship of Alaska’s fisheries.

The problem is that many important fisheries have been left out of the fold of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Cook Inlet salmon fishery is a prime example. Every year, some 10 to 30 million salmon pass through federal waters in Cook Inlet, in route to their native streams.

These are some of the largest wild salmon runs in the world, and they go largely unharvested.

But the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries plainly don’t want anything to do with Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, despite their obligation under federal law.

The council never took an active role in managing the fishery, and in 2012, with approval from NOAA Fisheries, removed Cook Inlet from the council’s Fishery Management Plan, despite the objections of the commercial fishing industry.

The result is that the benefits of Magnuson-Stevens Act have never come to pass in Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet does not get the benefit of “drawing on NOAA’s environmental intelligence to improve stock assessments and assess the impact of climate change on fish population.”

Cook Inlet does not get to draw upon the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s “transparent governing process” or the robust “public-private management process founded under MSA.”

Cook Inlet does not get to draw on the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s promises of optimum yield for each fishery, or the promise that “science is behind every fishery management decision” in Alaska.

Instead, Cook Inlet is left with the Board of Fisheries. Regardless of whether you believe those who claim the Board of Fish “isn’t broken” (ADN commentary March 16, 2016) or others who believe it certainly is broken (ADN commentary March 30, 2016), no one can reasonably argue that the Board of Fisheries process can match the transparency of the council, or claim that “science is behind every fishery management decision” made by the Board of Fisheries.

There should not be any real doubt, of course, why the council doesn’t want to deal with salmon management in Cook Inlet. The resource disputes between user groups are contentious and longstanding.

But the need for the scientific rigor and transparency that the council can provide has never been greater. The Board of Fisheries has made no real effort to find solutions to managing Cook Inlet salmon fisheries in light of poor returns of some stocks, the identification of several “stocks of concern,” impacts from invasive species, and growing habitat problems from both urbanization and climate change.

The result in recent years has been sport and commercial fishery closures and restrictions, the loss of millions of unharvested salmon, the loss of tens of millions of dollars to the regional economy and the loss of millions of dollars to the State treasury.

All Cook Inlet salmon fisheries would plainly benefit from coordinating the State’s long-standing salmon management experience with the council’s transparent, science-based process. This is precisely what the Magnuson-Stevens Act contemplates.

Hopefully, the sport and commercial fishermen and the coastal communities in Cook Inlet won’t have to wait another 40 years for the promises of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to be fulfilled.

David Martin is the president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.

 

Updated: 
04/20/2016 - 3:57pm

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