The rules that govern our nation's fisheries are being retooled, so it's reassuring that Congress isn't traveling in uncharted seas.
More than 80 percent of Alaska's fish landings hail come from federally managed waters, and the Magnuson-(Ted) Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the primary law ruling U.S. fisheries. The Act is undergoing reauthorization for the first time in seven years.
First enacted in 1976, the MSA "Americanized" the fisheries by booting out foreign fleets to beyond 200 miles from our shores. It created the nation's eight fishery management councils, and its laws dictate everything from fishing and bycatch quotas, to catch shares, observer coverage, habitat protection and more.
The MSA legislation is now in the lap of the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee, chaired by Alaska Senator Mark Begich.
"It's the big deal; it really does dictate for generations to come the parameters for managing the fishing industry of this country," Begich said from his DC office.
The sessions are not designed as debates, but to "put things on the table," he said. "Both the positive and the negative; what's working and what's not. So at the end of the day, we can look at it in a broad perspective and determine where and if we need to make modifications."
The main issues he's heard from Alaskans so far include the lack of mention of subsistence needs in the Act, and the "need for balance" among commercial, sport and subsistence users. Topping them all, is the need to have fishery decisions driven by good science.
"We hear over and over again to make sure decisions continue to be driven by science and not just some political decision, or who has the majority on a board or a commission," he said.
Begich is working with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the ranking Republican on the Oceans Committee, to schedule listening sessions across the country.
"We want to make sure we continue to develop fish policy that is not only good for Alaska, but good for our nation," he added.
Senator Begich expects the MSA to be reauthorized early next year. Send MSA comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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