Reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

Reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary law governing marine fisheries management in the United States, was last reauthorized in 2006. The 114th Congress, which convened in 2015, has yet to reauthorize this law.

Since its original passage in 1976, the MSA has made notable progress in ending overfishing, rebuilding depleted fish stocks, protecting essential fish habitat and a variety of other improvements to the nation’s marine resources. However, despite its significant socioeconomic, cultural and conservation values, recreational fishing’s importance is still not sufficiently reflected in the MSA or the resultant federal marine fisheries management process, which remains primarily focused on commercial fishing.

ASA and its partners welcome the opportunity to further advance the concepts within the Morris-Deal report and are encouraging Congress to reauthorize the law.

Our Position

ASA strongly supports the work of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, co-chaired by Bass Pro Shops Founder and CEO Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats President Scott Deal. The commission, composed of respected biologists, economists, conservationists, fisheries managers and policy makers, developed specific management recommendations for keeping saltwater recreational fishing sustainable and healthy. The Commission advanced an innovative and results-oriented approach to marine fisheries management.

ASA played a significant role in the work of the Morris-Deal Commission, including the production of its report, A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries, which was released in February 2014. This landmark report outlines a new paradigm for conserving marine fishing resources while producing the full range of saltwater recreational fishing’s economic, social and conservation benefits. The report describes the nation’s most important saltwater fisheries management issues and is intended to help guide federal policy decisions, particularly as Congress debates MSA reauthorization.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Establishing a national policy for recreational fishing
  • Adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management
  • Allocating marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation
  • Creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines
  • Codifying a process for cooperative management
  • Managing for the forage base

Issue Background

Throughout 2013 and early 2014, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives held oversight hearings on MSA to gather perspectives on what is, and is not, working with the law. After a brief comment period on a discussion draft, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) introduced in May 2014, an MSA reauthorization bill, which was quickly marked up and passed out of committee. ASA and its partners expressed concern that the bill did not address the key priority issues identified by the Morris-Deal Commission.

In the Senate, Chairman Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and ranking member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, worked in bipartisan fashion to develop an MSA reauthorization bill.

Legislation to amend and reauthorize MSA has been introduced in both the House and the Senate.  On June 1, 2015, the House passed a comprehensive MSA reauthorization bill, H.R. 1335. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), included several provisions supported by a coalition of organizations representing the saltwater recreational fishing and boating community. These were provisions to promote transparency and science-based review of fishery allocations, help ensure fisheries aren’t unnecessarily closed by limiting exceptions for annual catch limits, and improve the accuracy of fish stock information through greater involvement by the states. During consideration on the House floor, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) added an amendment that gives NOAA Fisheries the authority to implement management practices better tailored to the nature of recreational fishing. Further action is dependent upon the Senate.

On May 20, 2015, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reintroduced the Florida Fisheries Improvement Act, S. 1403, a bill to amend MSA with a primary focus on improving fisheries management and data collection in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions. Specifically, it includes measures to provide modest but necessary flexibility in fisheries rebuilding, authorize consideration of alternative management measures for recreational fisheries, and require regional management councils to review allocation processes. The Senate Commerce Committee held a markup session on June 25, 2015, during which Rubio’s bill passed out of committee by voice vote. The bill has not yet been scheduled for debate on the Senate floor.

ASA and its partners welcome the opportunity to further advance the concepts within the Morris-Deal report and are encouraging Congress to reauthorize the law.