Alaska Hearing Highlights Federal Management Needs for Recreational Fishing

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Senate subcommittee gathers comments on reauthorizing Magnuson-Stevens Act

By Chris Woodward

About 100 people gathered to watch a Senate subcommittee hearing on reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna, Alaska.
Chris Woodward

Proper research, adequate funding and management flexibility surfaced as key concerns among recreational and commercial fishing interests and fishery specialists during a field hearing Wednesday of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard in Soldotna, Alaska.

Chaired by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ak.) the “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Oversight of Fisheries Management Successes and Challenges” brought together three panels with a total of 14 speakers from state and federal fisheries agencies, commercial and recreational fishing groups and marine industry representatives. About 100 people filled the hearing room.

Subcommittee chair Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ak.)
Courtesy of Yamaha

“This is an area where I see significant bipartisan opportunities,” Sullivan said of the efforts now underway to reauthorize the landmark federal fisheries legislation. “The Save Our Seas Act that recently passed the Senate had numerous democratic and republican supporters… so there’s progress there.”
Fisheries management, he said, is “often a strained balancing act that forces tough choices between competing interests.” Sullivan quoted NOAA Fisheries chief Chris Oliver, who said he believes there are opportunities to have maximum harvest without compromising long-term sustainability.

“I think what he (Oliver) said is achievable,” said panelist Spud Woodward, director of the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “But it’s more than just amending Magnuson; it’s the leadership in NOAA at a regional level and how they interact with the councils. It’s going to

take a commitment of resources too. We’re trying to do very advanced fish management.”

Left to right: Dan Hull, chair, North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Sam Cotten, commissioner, Alaska Department of Fish and Game; Reed Morisky, member, Alaska Board of Fisheries; Spud Woodward, director, Coastal Resources Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Chris Woodward

Yamaha Marine Group President Ben Speciale called the subcommittee’s attention to the vast impact of recreational saltwater fishing on the U.S. economy: from the gelcoat makers in Kansas and the stainless-steel manufacturers in Pennsylvania to the electronics-component suppliers from Arkansas.

Speciale emphasized that recreational and commercial fishing are two fundamentally different activities that need distinctly different management tools. “The current one-size-fits-all approach has led to problems for the recreational angler, including shortened or even cancelled seasons,” he said. “We see weak information being used to make decisions. The best-available-data error factor is too large.”
Keep America Fishing Director Liz Ogilvie agreed that confidence in data collection and recognizing the differences between managing commercial and recreational fishing are the two main tenets the American Sportfishing Association would like to see incorporated into Magnuson. “I do not intend to diminish commercial fishing. But we need to recognize that recreational fishing should no longer be an afterthought,” she said.

Panel No. 2, left to right: Glenn Reed, president, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Seattle, Washington; Ben Speciale, president, Yamaha Marine Group, Kennesaw, Georgia; Linda Behnken, president, Halibut Coalition and executive director, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association; Ragnar Alstrom, executive director, Yukon Delta Fisheries; Ben Stevens, director, Hunting and Fishing Task Force, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Chris Woodward

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Management Act was first passed in 1976 to enhance the biological and economic sustainability of America’s marine fisheries within 200 miles of our coastline. Beyond that border, the ocean waters are considered international.

Congress revised Magnuson in 1996, creating the Sustainable Fisheries Act. Then in 2007, Congress reauthorized the Act, updating recreational fishery data collection methods, and adding annual catch limits and accountability measures as well as limited-access privilege programs such as catch shares. Since then, successive bills have amended the Act and Congress has held multiple hearings to gather testimony on improving the law.

In April, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) introduced H.R.2023, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act), as a bipartisan attempt at reauthorizing Magnuson. That bill has been referred to a House subcommittee.

Panel No. 3, left to right: Shannon Carroll, deputy director, Alaska Marine Conservation Council; Julie Bonney, executive director, Alaska Groundfish Data Bank; Lori Swanson, executive director, Marine Conservation Alliance, Juneau, Alaska; Duncan FIelds, Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition; Liz Ogilvie, director, Keep America FIshing, American Sportfishing Association, Alexandria, Virginia.
Chris Woodward

This July, senators Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced the Modern Fish Act as S.1520 into that body, and described it as “a bill to expand recreational-fishing opportunities through enhanced marine fishery conservation and management, and for other purposes.” S.1520 was subsequently referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The subcommittee hosted its initial reauthorization hearing on Aug. 1 in Washington D.C. to capture testimony from Dr. John Quinn, chair for the New England Fishery Management Council, and Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, presented. Today’s hearing was the second scheduled; more stakeholder events will be announced this fall.

Full committee action in the Senate and House is expected this fall. Anglers can comment on reauthorization to the subcommittee by writing to chance_costello@commerce.senate.gov. You can also send a prewritten letter to your legislators (U.S. Senators and House members) supporting the Modern Fish Act

“One of the primary concerns is the prescriptive nature of ending overfishing and rebuilding,” Woodward said. “The Act when it was reauthorized in 2007 had good intentions, the problem is in applying goals across a great diversity of species. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to rebuild stocks in the time mandated by law. Sometimes that comes with socioeconomic consequences that are devastating.”

Watch a video of the full hearing.