A Christmas wish for a revised Magnuson-Stevens Act

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee held a legislative hearing this week on eight bills, all of which seek to alter the nation’s federal fishing law. Some bills are a reaction to regional issues, others address national concerns.

In his opening statement during the committee hearing, Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) noted that when the Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized in 2007, it “placed a new emphasis on science with the expectation that all of the eight regional fishery management councils would have the same high level of scientific information that the North Pacific Council has enjoyed for years. Unfortunately, we have learned that several regions of the country do not have frequent stock surveys or stock assessments and, with the current budget climate, that is unlikely to change.”

Consequently, Hastings said, regulators have been erring on the side of caution and setting lower annual catch limits.

“Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, there has always been a balance between conservation and the full utilization of our Nation’s fishery resources,” Hastings said. “The trend toward more precaution in setting harvest levels has altered this balance and is resulting in lost economic opportunity and lost jobs.”

No doubt at the top of fishermen’s Christmas wish list would be a revised Magnuson-Stevens Act that provided for sound science (along with the funding for it), that relaxed artificial stock rebuilding deadlines, that gave greater weight to socio-economic data before regulations are implemented, and that prevented catch share management programs from being foisted upon fisheries that don’t want or need them.

If it’s amended that easily, then we could safely conclude that yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. The cynical Scrooges among us, however, believe it will be quite a battle to get Congress to approve a more flexible Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Well, if the Scrooges are right, then fishermen would be wise to badger their Congressmen and Senators until their elected representatives commit to voting in favor of a more flexible Magnuson-Stevens Act. It’d be well worth the effort, wouldn’t it?

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