Committee moves bill updating Magnuson-Stevens Act

Salmon were jumping out of the water in Amalga Harbor.

(Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee yesterday moved a bill to update the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary fisheries law in federal waters. Alaska Congressman Don Young amended the bill to allow subsistence fishermen a voice on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Fish like halibut and pollock are caught at sea, but Young says inland fishermen should also have a say in how they’re managed.

“All I want is for them to have a voice, the same voice that the commercial and sport fisheries have, so they have utilization for a living source of food,” Young said.

Nominees for the North Pacific Council can be qualified based on their commercial or recreational fishing expertise. The law doesn’t mention subsistence users, and Young says they’re being short-changed on the Council.

“There has been a decline in fisheries that are used for subsistence and yet the subsistence users are neglected as far as taking in consideration the amount of fish that can be caught,” Young said.

His amendment would require the Alaska governor to consult with subsistence users before nominating North Pacific Council members. Tribes in the Y-K Delta and the Interior have been asking for representation on the Council. People there suspect Bering Sea fisheries are aggravating the Chinook salmon crisis. The Pollock industry says its cut way down on its Chinook bycatch, down to about 30,000 fish. But to subsistence users barred from catching even one, it sounds like a lot.

Sky Starkey, an attorney for the Association of Village Council Presidents, says the amendment is a good start in getting subsistence users into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but Starkey says tribes want a dedicated tribal seat on the council to press subsistence concerns.

“And the amendment that was introduced at mark-up today would not accomplish that purpose, at least not directly so,” Starkey said.

Current law says membership on the management councils should be “balanced” between different types of fishermen, commercial and recreational. Young’s amendment doesn’t change the balancing requirement to give any weight to subsistence.

It passed the committee with no opposition. The bill itself is largely similar to the draft in circulation since December.

Resources Chairman Doc Hastings told the committee they’d have more opportunities to shape the bill as it moves forward.