Young dismisses White House Magnuson-Stevens veto threat

President Barack Obama’s administration gave an early promise to stop Rep. Don Young’s changes to national fishing laws before the bill has even seen the light of a full House discussion.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, governs all fisheries in the federal waters from three to 200 miles off the U.S. coast, and authorizes eight regional fishery management councils, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that oversees fishing in the waters off the Alaska coast. It was first passed in 1976 and most recently reauthorized and amended in 2006.

Young authored and introduced the current amended reauthorization, entitled the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. The update intends to allow more management flexibility for the fishery councils, relieve duplicative processes, and incorporate the latest developments in fisheries management science.

It has not yet been heard in a full House session.

The White House objects to several of the MSA changes, accusing Young of complicating a successful process and thereby putting the environment at risk.

The administration turns Young’s call for flexibility and science around on the congressman as a backwards step.

“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1335, which would amend the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), because it would impose arbitrary and unnecessary requirements that would harm the environment and the economy,” reads the statement of administration policy released May 19.

“Arbitrary and unnecessary requirements,” however, are exactly what Young said he is trying to remove.

Among other changes to the original, Young’s bill would make a distinction between “overfished” and “depleted” stocks instead of labeling all struggling stocks as “overfished.” The distinction is important, as some stocks decline in the absence of fishing. Young said his attention was first brought to the difference between terms in the western Aleutian Islands, where certain stocks like Atka mackerel were depleted not due to overfishing, but predation by Steller sea lions.

Young’s reauthorization would also remove the current mandatory 10 years for rebuilding plans for depleted stocks. Councils will be allowed to phase in rebuilding plans over a three-year period in order to ostensibly limit damaging effects to fishing-dependent economies.

Certain environmental protection procedures will also be tweaked. Currently, fishery councils must complete environmental assessments or environmental impact statements required by the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA, in addition to their fishery management plans.

Young’s amendment would require councils to include NEPA criteria into their fishery impact statements and management plans, and deems the plans compliant with the environmental law.

This would spare fishery management councils the expense and effort of NEPA environmental assessments and impact statements while theoretically keeping the same environmental protections. According to the of the North Pacific council Executive Director Chris Oliver, councils have been seeking this streamlining measure for years.

The White House said Young’s changes amount to an attack on environmental protection policy in the guise of economic curatorship. Flexibility, it claims, is a dressed-up word for regulation skirting.

“The MSA currently provides the flexibility needed to effectively manage the nation’s marine commercial, recreational and subsistence fisheries,” the statement reads. “In contrast, H.R. 1335 would undermine the use of science-based actions to end and prevent overfishing.”

The Obama administration’s biggest concern is the adoption of NEPA requirements into fisheries management plans, which it interprets as a way to circumvent laws rather than simplify their execution.

“H.R. 1335 would exempt fishery management actions from the requirements for environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and replace them with a new set of standards,” reads the statement. “This provision is unnecessary, as the regional fishery management councils have integrated environmental analyses into an overall framework that is both timely and effective.”

Similar objections were brought up during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on April 30.

“All Americans, in particular communities without deep pockets, depend on the protections of NEPA to shield them from arbitrary federal government overreach,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “If you support individual freedoms in this country, I don’t see how you can vote for this amendment.”

Young said Grijalva’s objection was a fundamental misunderstanding.

“There’s nothing in the amendment that guts NEPA,” responded Young. “It leaves the decisions of NEPA within the council.”

The second large objection the White House has to Young’s reauthorization concerns the management of Gulf of Mexico red snapper. In Young’s proposed update, red snapper would be labeled a recreational only fishery, and therefore removed from federal oversight.

“This proposed extension of jurisdiction would create an untenable situation where recreational and commercial fishermen fishing side by side would be subject to different regulatory regimes,” the statement read. “Absent an agreement among the states as to how to allocate recreationally caught red snapper, the bill would encourage interstate conflict and jeopardize the sustainability of this Gulf-wide resource.”

Young dismisses the veto threat as premature posturing not worth consideration at this early point in the legislative process.

“Ultimately, it is the President’s prerogative to let Congress know his views on legislation,” wrote Young in an email. “However, this is a long legislative process, and it is entirely premature for the President to discuss vetoing this legislation.”

The House Committee on Rules voted on May 20 to send the bill to the House floor. Young spokesman Matt Shuckerow said House discussion of the bill is will likely take place June 1, and that the final bill will undoubtedly be marked up and amended during the session.

Furthermore, the Senate does not currently have a companion bill. If and when it comes, the bill will likely come from Sen. Mark Rubio, R-Fla., who chairs the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard within the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Alaska’s Sen. Dan Sullivan serves on the same committee.

Shuckerow said the Senate bill will be different than Young’s draft, and the House and Senate will have to fold the two together in conference. In the meantime, Young isn’t fazed by the White House’s threat of veto.

“The President has called for numerous vetoes in the past, and I’m certain we’ll see plenty more before he leaves office,” Young wrote. “H.R. 1335 will continue rebuilding depleted fish stocks, provide transparency, streamline the management process, and ensure that more scientific information is available to deal with data-poor fish stocks.”

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

11/21/2016 - 8:18pm