Young adds subsistence to MSA; pollock caps may rise


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The House Natural Resources Committee has made several changes to its draft of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including allowing a change to the limit on the pollock harvest in the North Pacific and an amendment from Rep. Don Young requiring more consideration of subsistence uses in fishery management decisions.

The May 23 House draft also adjusts the process for developing new fishery regulations, changes the language regarding bycatch data and electronic monitoring and includes a North Pacific-specific section on pollock harvest limits.

The pollock fishery language would require the North Pacific council to set a limit on the percentage of the pollock harvest that can be made by any one individual, coporation or entity, and puts the maximum of that limit at 24 percent. The current limit is 17 percent, so the council could chose to raise it.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, regulates management of federal fisheries from three miles to 200 miles offshore and authorizes the eight regional councils, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which makes decisions for federal waters offshore from Alaska.

The MSA first passed in 1976, was most recently reauthorized and amended in 2006, and is up for renewal again.

House and Senate committees have been working on separate discussion drafts to amend the act.

The House version generally focuses on providing more flexibility to fishery managers and councils. The House Natural Resources committee published a second draft of its version of the new legislation May 23, and held a session May 29 to mark up the draft and make changes. The first House draft came out in December.

Young offered the amendment defining subsistence fishing and requiring that subsistence users be considered when members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council are selected.

Young called it a simple amendment, and said that despite declines in fish available to subsistence users, those individuals haven’t been taken into consideration during discussions of catch limits.

 “All I want them is to have a voice, the same voice as the commercial and the sport fisheries have,” Young said. That passed with no other discussion.

Young told the Journal earlier this year that he wanted to offer a greater voice in the council process to subsistence users, although at that time he referred to a designated subsistence seat on the North Pacific council.

The Senate version of the MSA also includes subsistence users in determining council membership, as well as in reference to fisheries and users considered when decisions are made.

During the hearing, Young asked his fellow committee members to refrain from making too many amendments, noting that the legislation has largely worked for Alaska’s fisheries.

“You want to screw it up, and get other agencies involved in the fisheries, then go ahead and do it,” Young said. “…Go ahead and let big government and big brother look over your shoulder every minute of the way. I’m suggesting leave the bill alone as its been written.”

Other amendments that passed during the May 29 session implement a requirement that the Secretary of Commerce make a decision on disaster declarations within 90 days of a governor’s request, add a 30-day timeline for determining the cost of recovery after a fishery disaster, and call for additional study and collection of recreational fisheries data. Other region-specific measures were also added.

The May 23 House draft also adjusts the process for developing new fishery regulations, changes the language regarding bycatch data and electronic monitoring and includes a North Pacific-specific section limiting the pollock harvest.

The new House draft also changes some of the language regarding rebuilding plans and catch limits. The newest draft re-inserts the Scientific and Statistical Committees, or SSC, into changes to the rebuilding plans, and removes some of the ability to phase-in those plans for economic reasons.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the SSC is responsible for determining the overfishing limit and acceptable biological catch, or ABC, for each species managed by the councils. While the councils may adopt fishing quotas up to the level of the ABC, they may not override the limits set by the Scientific and Statistical Committee.

The SSCs also create rebuilding plans, and because of the current requirements to rebuild a stock determined to be overfished within 10 years, drastic quota cuts have been implemented, particularly on the East Coast. The economic impacts of sharp cuts were behind the initial language to phase in rebuilding plans.

The May 23 draft also deals with how regulations are changed.

The language calls for every fishery management plan or amendment to include a fishery impact statement outlining the need for the action, environmental impacts, economic and social impacts, and other details about the change.

As proposed, that document would be available to the public at least 14 days before a council meeting where final action might be taken.

The older House draft also included language asserting that a fishery management plan prepared under the MSA met the National Environmental Policy Act standards; the new version confirms that that occurs with the proposed fishery impact statement is included as part of the regulation process.

The new language also calls for the Secretary of Commerce to review regulation changes and evaluate whether they are consistent with the FMPs and other statutory requirements within 15 days of receiving the proposed changes.

The new House draft also alters the electronic monitoring language. The prior version called for electronic monitoring within six months; the new version gives 12 months, and also offers the use of pilot projects before a final program is implemented.

The draft also further edits the data confidentiality language. The December version gave the fishing industry significantly more confidentiality, and reduced the amount of information available to the public about bycatch. The new language is changed, but still appears to provide the public with less access to bycatch data.

The draft also provides councils with a little more flexibility in how it ensures public access to the process, allowing audio, webcast or broadcast of council meetings, rather than requiring a videostream as the prior version had done, and enables the councils to select between archived audio or video of the meeting, or a searchable audio or written transcript.

The North Pacific council had raised concerns about being able to meet the video standard, particularly when it meets in an Alaskan fishing community each June. It is meeting in Nome June 4 to 9.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

 

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