“Without fish in the ocean, we don’t have fishermen,” Martens said. “Our goal as an organization is to always make sure there are fish in the ocean next year, and the year after, building toward a better future. We need those timelines. Without targets, there’s nothing to drive change and action. In Maine, we’ve seen rebounds because of those targets. It gets much harder without them.”
From the Portland Press Herald (read the article)
Yesterday, July 11, 2018, HR.200 the "Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act" introduced by Rep. Don Young (AK), passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 222-193. This bill is an attempt to update the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). MSA is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters. First passed in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act fosters long-term biological and economic sustainability of the US’s marine fisheries out to 200 nautical miles from shore and established eight regional fishery management councils to develop fishery management plans (FMPs) specific to their regions, fisheries, and fish stocks.
Key objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act are to:
Rebuild overfished stocks
Increase long-term economic and social benefits
Use reliable data and sound science
Conserve essential fish habitat
Ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood
Since its introduction, and through the important additions of scientifically set standards and rebuilding timeline requirements in subsequent reauthorizations, the United States now has some of the best managed ocean fisheries in the world. This achievement is directly attributable to the MSA and the science-based management program it has created. Since 2000, 44 once-depleted stocks have been rebuilt, and both the numbers of stocks experiencing overfishing as well as overfished stocks are at all-time lows. By all accounts, the MSA is not only working: it has been remarkably successful.
Unfortunately, the bill introduced by Rep. Young undermines many of the gains we have worked so hard for and will move fisheries management away from rebuilding targets and the use of the “best available science” for decision making. There are also numerous parts of this bill that begin to erode commercial fisheries access and instead prioritize the recreational fleet while also removing reporting and accountability measures from that same recreational fleet that is looking to land more fish. This is not only counter-productive, but also dangerous for our marine resources, our fishing communities, and consumers who want to be able to eat healthy, local, sustainable seafood.
Rebuilding timelines are a bit wonky, but it’s worth our time to explain why a set rebuilding timeline and target is the lynchpin to responsible fisheries management. Currently, in the MSA, once a stock is overfished and depleted, the regional council that oversees that specific stock must initiate a rebuilding plan to restore that species. According to the MSA, they must develop regulations, including accountability measures, to rebuild that stock within 10 years. If a stock is determined to not be able to be rebuilt within that time frame, rebuilding timelines can be extended. Currently, for codfish in the Gulf of Maine, we are on a rebuilding time frame that is close to 20 years.
If you remove that set goal, the councils will have more flexibility to adjust rebuilding timelines over much longer horizons based upon the economic impacts that a reduction in allowed catch will have on the industry. While it is important to recognize the need to ensure that we have a viable commercial fishery and solvent businesses, this increased flexibility will be detrimental to long-term sustainability and profits for short-term and short-lived gains. Jason DeLaCruz, a fisherman we work closely with from the Gulf of Mexico Reef Shareholders Alliance said it best,
“‘Flexibility’ is a euphemism for ‘deregulation.”
In other words, we need targets to strive for otherwise we will drive stocks already in trouble down past the point of no return.
“This attempt to return us to the bad old days of a failed fisheries management policy and overfishing that inevitably follows from loose standards should be seen as unacceptable to everyone that cares about sustainable fisheries,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said.
In addition to the bill, there were several amendments to the bill that are important to understand and address. I’ll list the four most important to Maine fishermen.
Courtney(CT)/Zeldin(NY) - Creates an industry-based pilot trawl survey for the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council regions.
If you follow New England fisheries at all, you know that there are a lot of concerns from fishermen, managers, and scientists about the data being used in stock assessments. This amendment will help to correct some of those issues by trying to figure out what is going wrong with our trawl survey by asking fishermen to work with scientists to collect data for a period of time.
Graves (LA) - Requires the Comptroller General to submit a report to Congress on resource rent of LAPPs in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, ways to the Treasury can reclaim that resource rent, and ways to eliminate fiduciary conflicts of interest in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils.
This amendment essentially charges commercial red snapper fishermen to go out and fish above and beyond the current permitting structure that exists. It also seeks to silence their voice in the Council decision-making process. While not focused on New England, this amendment is a punitive attack on commercial fisheries in an attempt to help the recreational fleet. If this type of effort goes through, it will set a dangerous precedent for how fishermen access and participate in their fishery.
Keating (MA) - Directs the Secretary to submit a plan to establish fully operational electronic monitoring and reporting procedures for the Northeast Multispecies Fishery.
MCFA helped develop a program to bring a cost-effective monitoring solution to New England by using cameras to track catch and discards on the boats in place of human monitors. This amendment will push the regional office to develop the map as to how to get us from the current small-scale program to something that could work for the greater New England fishery.
Keating (MA) - Directs the Secretary to use funds collected from penalties and fines for monitoring in addition to traditional enforcement activities.
With the current funding issues in congress, and the costs associated with monitoring within the groundfish fishery, this amendment will create a new pool of resources that could be utilized to help pay for better accountability and data collection on the water.