Senate draft of fisheries act begins circulating
The newest version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act out for discussion adds subsistence users and Tribal governments to the fisheries management law and has the potential to create new Community Development Quota in the Arctic, but it has not yet been made widely available to the public for review.
The act passed in 1976, which was last reauthorized in 2006 and is up for renewal this year, regulates most fisheries in American federal waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore, and authorizes the eight regional fishery management councils.
The most recent draft was produced by the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee chaired by Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.
That committee held several hearings on various perspectives on the MSA, including one focused on the North Pacific in February in which Alaska Native and Tribal groups called for more inclusion and recognition of subsistence voices in the fishery management process.
The Senate’s discussion draft of the law adds subsistence to the types of fishing being managed alongside commercial and recreational, adds subsistence to the fishery categories eligible for representation on regional fishery management councils, and refers to Tribal governments’ role in managing fish.
The language also calls for an expansion of the Community Development Quota program if the North Pacific council amends the Arctic fishery management plan, or FMP, to allow commercial fishing there.
The draft does not provide many specifics on the CDQ program changes, but does state that 10 percent of the total allowable catch in the Arctic Management Area would be set aside for coastal villages north and east of the Bering Strait. The Community Development Quota, or CDQ, program, was implemented in 1992 and allocates 10.7 percent of the Bering Sea federal fisheries harvest to six organizations representing 65 Western Alaska villages within 50 miles of the coast.
Currently, there is no fishing allowed under the Arctic FMP.
That draft is dated April 3. It had not yet been posted online for the general public to review as of April 16, although Begich spokesperson Heather Handyside wrote in an April 15 email it had been circulated to “other senate offices, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), sportfishing users, commercial users, NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and individuals.” A specific list of those recipients was not available.
Although many in the fishing community had received a copy of the draft by mid-April, not everyone had seen it. Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said he had not received a copy as of April 14.
Gease was one of several Alaskan stakeholders to testify at the North Pacific hearing in February. Other Alaskans who testified there, or lobbyists for the groups they represent, had received a copy by April 14.
On April 8, a Senate Commerce Committee staffer emailed the draft to a list of lobbyists and executives representing various commercial fishing interests throughout the country, including processors and harvesters in Alaska, and some who represent Pacific Northwest Tribal groups, although no Alaska Native or Tribal organizations were on that list.
In the email obtained by the Journal, the committee staffer Sean Houton asked those individuals to “please be discrete with the draft as you develop your comments.” He did not respond to an email asking why he asked for discretion in the draft, or if he had sent it to anyone else.
The executives on the distribution list include Pacific Seafood Processors Vice President Dennis Phelan, West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Rod Moore and At-Sea Processors Public Affairs Director Jim Gilmore, and lobbyists representing Bering Sea Crabbers, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., US Seafoods and United Catcher Boats.
Other lobbyists on the list represent Northeast, South Atlantic and Gulf Coast fishing interests. Houton’s email also invited the lobbyists and executives to a meeting on Capitol Hill April 15 to discuss the draft.
Handyside did not respond specifically to a question about whether other meetings were planned on the hill for others to review the draft, but noted that listening sessions and hearings had been held during the past year to get stakeholder input.
“Right now we are talking informally with stakeholders to get their ideas.” Handyside wrote. “It’s still a work in progress. We are getting many comments from individuals and groups across the state.”
Handyside also said the working draft of the legislation would be circulated more broadly in the coming weeks. Until then, public input is being taken through Begich’s fisheries staffer Bob King.
Begich spoke briefly about the draft at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting in Anchorage on April 14.
Since this draft was released, Begich said his office has received significant feedback from Alaska fishery stakeholders. Their concerns will be addressed, he said.
“We’ll be back at it,” he said, noting that the bill won’t move without working on Alaska’s interests.
Begich said the draft currently out for review was based on the hearings and listening sessions held in Alaska and elsewhere in the country throughout the past year.
Begich said that this iteration will likely be out for a couple weeks, and then in the first part of May the subcommittee will work on another draft that incorporates people’s concerns, with additional hearings toward the end of May.
A final bill could pass in late summer or early fall, he said.
The House Natural Resources Committee released its own discussion draft of the act in December. At that time, the draft was posted online, a press release was sent out, and the committee set up an email specifically for MSA comments.
Mike Tadeo, a House Natural Resources Committee staffer, said the House had gone through a public process to develop the draft and make it available for comment. However, he did not respond specifically to a question about whether the House discussion draft had been made available to select groups before it was released to the public as a whole.
Bycatch, ecosystems also changed
The draft also addresses capital funds for fishing infrastructure, and allows facilities other than vessels to be eligible for funding.
The draft also changes the language relative to bycatch. Instead of calling for fishery managers to minimize bycatch, it calls for bycatch to be avoided.
The draft also calls for certain ecosystem-based policies and goals, and more explicit management of forage fish, including accounting for dependent fish when setting annual catch limits. It also requires more study and use of electronic monitoring, specifically in the North Pacific.
As currently proposed, stock assessments would be required at least every five years.