Magnuson-Stevens Act discussion continues over draft bills

Discussion of how to change the Magnuson-Stevens Act continues, with Alaska’s fisheries stakeholders still reviewing the two drafts currently out for consideration.

The act, or MSA, governs fisheries throughout the country and is currently in the process of being reauthorized and amended. The MSA, which was last reauthorized in 2006 and is up for renewal, regulates most fisheries in federal waters 3 to 200 miles offshore, and authorizes the eight regional fishery management councils.

The Senate Oceans Subcommittee did not formally publish its draft, but Sen. Mark Begich’s staff has been giving it out to interested parties, and is taking comments through June 2. That draft came out in April. Begich is the chair of the subcommittee.

The House Natural Resources committee released its own draft last December, which is also still circulating for discussion.

Eventually, the two bodies will have to pass one version of the act. For now, the two drafts have differences, and comments on both vary.

The Senate draft would give a larger voice to subsistence and recreational fishers, by including them throughout the law.

Generally, North Pacific commercial users and managers have said that the current act is successful for them, and asked for caution in making any major changes, although subsistence and recreational users have asked for the greater voice.

The House version adds additional flexibility for fisheries managers, although some have criticized that as reducing the science involved in management.

The flexibility would allow rebuilding plans to be phased in over three years and change the timeline for rebuilding stocks that now requires stocks under such a plan to be rebuilt within 10 years1.

Others have also asked for flexibility in setting annual catch limits.

Members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages federal fisheries offshore from Alaska, have said that the current process for setting catch limits process works for Alaska.

The council’s executive director Chris Oliver said at an April symposium that the council also wants the revised act to preserve flexibility for councils as they develop limited access fisheries.

Currently, most of the fisheries the council manages have either a limited access privilege programs or a catch share program, but the structure of each differs greatly. The council wants to be able to continue implementing different types of programs, Oliver said.

The council is not in favor of mandated sunset dates or referendums for those programs, Oliver said, except on a regional basis where there is support for that sort of a change.

The Senate draft also includes a requirement to review allocations in a mixed-stock fishery on a regular schedule.

Other key components of the House draft include language changes to remove the term “overfished” from the MSA, and use “depleted,” instead.

Generally, the section added to the House draft that increases flexibility and changes definitions does not appear in the Senate version.

Oliver said that much of the calls for more flexibility could be best accomplished by providing necessary outcomes of fishery management, rather than prescribing how the councils arrive at those outcomes.

Begich told the North Pacific council in April that he had already heard significant feedback about the definitions not appearing in the Senate draft, and that they could be addressed in a future draft.

Begich said in April that there would be another draft and hearings on it, and that he was shooting for a bipartisian bill. So far, another version has not yet been introduced, but that could occur next month.

Both versions also address bycatch, but in different ways.

The House version of the bill tightens confidentiality language, potentially making it more difficult for the public to access information about bycatch.

The Senate version adds language about bycatch mortality to the discussion of fishing impacts on the ecosystem, and also adds language noting the socioeconomic and community impacts of bycatch. It would also amend language about bycatch from the current requirement to minimize bycatch to avoid bycatch and minimize mortality.

05/22/2014 - 6:43am