The major federal law governing marine fisheries management underwent a major revamping in 1996 and is up for reauthorization in 2006.
The American Sportfishing Association, together with other recreational fishing interests, has developed proposals on a number of issues for the reauthorization. Among these are (1) greater recognition of the economic impact of recreational fishing, (2) standards for marine protected area designations, (3) state based saltwater fishing licenses, (4) modifications to destructive commercial gear, (5) improving the science behind fishery management council actions, and (6) reducing overcapitalized commercial fleets through buyouts.
In 1996, the Magnuson-Stevens Act underwent a major overhaul and was reauthorized as the Sustainable Fisheries Act. ASA was intimately involved in this reauthorization process. Substantial gains have been made since the 1996 amendments and many fish stocks are on the road to recovery. Therefore, we believe only improvements in the upcoming reauthorization should build on this already well established basis.
The bill's namesake, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) introduced a bill in November 2005 that passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on December 15, 2005, and the full Senate on June 19, 2006. The bill includes a number of provisions favorable to sportfishing interests. Bills were filed in the House of Representatives by Representative Pombo (R-CA), Representative Gilchrest (R-MD) and Representative Rayhall (D-WV). Representative Pombo's bill passed the House Resources Committee on May 17, 2006. The bill is expected to come before the full House of Representatives in the fall of 2006. Once passed, the bills will have to be reconciled in a Senate-House Conference Committee before final passage.
Relevant provisions and changes called for in the proposed bill are:
Regional Council Structure
The Act’s basic structure is to regulate fishing on a regional basis with oversight by the Department of Commerce, specifically the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The marine waters covered by the Act are divided into eight regions, governed by regional councils. The principal responsibility of the councils is to develop fisheries management plans for their region. One of the top priorities was to better define and strengthen the role of the Science and Statistical Committee within each of the eight regional councils. Both bills better define and give added weight to the recommendations of the Science and Statistical Committees which, if enacted, should put into law the scientific improvements that most councils are already developing.
The Senate bill requires NOAA to register saltwater recreational anglers in states that do not currently have licenses. It is expected that registration will improve information on the number of recreational anglers and help form the basis for better recreational data, and give the states incentives to establish state based licenses. This provision is coupled with a requirement that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) develop improved methods for recreational data collection. The House bill adds funding for recreational data but does not require registration. ASA has supported state-based licensing, but prefers the implementation of some type of registration because knowing who is fishing is an important foundation for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of recreational data collection.
No Fishing Zones
The Senate and House bills both contain guidelines restricting the establishment of no-fishing zones. The guidelines will require that such areas be based on science, with a specific purpose that cannot be achieved through other management measures. The guidelines also call for periodic review.
Fishery allocation decisions have been traditionally made without consideration of the contribution of sportfishing on the economy. Both bills now require that data on the economic impact of all sectors be considered in the management plan process.
Both bills contain similar but not identical provisions on bycatch reduction. Both provide for research on bycatch reduction and incentives to implement bycatch reduction programs. The house bill authorizes $10,000,000 for bycatch research grants. The Senate bill provides authority for councils to implement bycatch reduction incentives, including bycatch quotas, in fishery management plans.
Individual Fishing Quotas
Two extensive portions of both bills focus on individual fishing quotas (termed Limited Access Privileges) for commercial fishing. The Senate bill also has provisions relating to international fishing, specifically illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. Limited access privilege programs may be instituted by most of the regional councils. The Northeast and Gulf councils can only establish such a program if initiated by a petition from a majority of the fishery's permit holders.
Both bills make changes to capacity reduction programs, The Senate bill gives more say in the process to “harvester proponents” while the House bill allows a Council or Governor to request a program to reduce capacity. The Senate bill requires the Department of Commerce to adopt framework regulations for all capacity reduction plans, and program regulations for specific plans.
Both billscontain provisions that deal with disaster recovery and authorizes the Department of Commerce to provide relief in the event of a catastrophic fishery disaster for infrastructure, job training and capacity reduction. This has the potential to be beneficial to recreational fishing by focusing on buying out excess capacity in the commercial sector.
The Senate bill addresses international fishing provisions are expanded and strengthened to prevent the importation to the United States of fish caught illegally. The Commerce Department has authority to certify that a nation is in compliance with relevant conservation agreements or measures before they can export fish to the United States. The House bill is silent on this issue, but there may be a separate House bill that addresses the issue.