By Michael Conathon, via The Center for American Progress
In September 2013 the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which regulates America’s fisheries, will be up for reauthorization for the first time since it was previously amended in 2006. The process that led to the most recent reauthorization took a contentious and laborious seven years of debate in Congress and led to dramatic changes in the law. Perhaps the most ambitious amendment was the addition of a requirement for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to set annual catch limits — caps on how much fishermen can catch of each of the fish stocks that NOAA manages.
Earlier this month the House Committee on Natural Resources formally kicked off the Magnuson reauthorization festivities with a hearing that, according to Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), was “intended to highlight issues that could provide the basis for future hearings.” A hearing about future hearings: government efficiency at its finest.
Most remarkable about this particular bit of political theater was that peeling back the veneer of partisanship that rules House proceedings these days revealed an almost unanimous agreement that, again in the words of Rep. Hastings, “many of the current challenges may not be due to the Act itself, but rather with its implementation.”
This realization tracks well with a Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, report issued earlier this month. The NRDC found that since the Magnuson-Stevens Act was amended in 1996 to require overfished stocks to be rebuilt within 10 years, nearly two-thirds of all once-overfished stocks have met their target numbers. As a result, revenues from U.S. commercial fishing have increased by 54 percent since 1996 when adjusted for inflation, with fishermen receiving more than half a billion dollars in additional revenue annually.
While this accomplishment is remarkable, it doesn’t extend to all fisheries or all regions of the country. The rising tide of improved fishery management in the United States has not lifted all boats. New England, for example, is still home to 11 overfished stocks — more than twice as many as any other region, according to NOAA’s 2011 “Status of Stocks” report to Congress. And each region of the country has at least one stock of fish on the overfished list.
So if you’re a charter-boat captain trying to get red snapper for your customers in the Gulf of Mexico—where the recreational season lasted just 40 days in 2012 — or if you’re a groundfisherman in New England facing 77 percent cuts to your quota of Gulf of Maine cod, NRDC’s big-picture statistics don’t do a whole lot for your bottom line.
While virtually everyone who spoke at this month’s House hearing agreed that the Magnuson-Stevens Act should remain in place and that the lingering difficulties were due to implementation and not the legislation itself, the question of how to resolve these problems raised a far more contentious debate.