Alaska Congressman Don Young has introduced a bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s primary law governing fishing in federal waters. It leaves fisheries managers some controversial wiggle room.
Previous versions of the law established eight regional councils and required them to set harvest limits based on science to end overfishing. The mechanism is known as the “Alaska Model” of fisheries management.
Young’s bill, though, introduces some flexibility for fisheries managers. Among other changes, it would allow councils to consider a community’s economic need when setting an annual catch limit, and it would allow a more elastic timeline for rebuilding depleted stocks. Spokesman Matt Shuckerow says the provision is intended for regions elsewhere in the country that don’t have enough scientific data.
“We don’t anticipate that changes will be made for the North Pacific Council,” Shuckerow said. “The North Pacific Council is still considered to be the premiere model of fisheries management and it has generally worked very well”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is among those pressing for greater flexibility, saying it’s in his state’s interest.
The bill would also require Alaska’s governor to consult subsistence stakeholders before nominating people to the council, and it says subsistence expertise can qualify a person as a nominee. But it does not add a subsistence seat to the North Pacific Council, as some Alaska tribes requested. Shuckerow says Young hasn’t ruled out the idea, but if Alaska adds a subsistence seat, Washington State will want to add to its
delegation on the council also.
“That’s something, like I said, we’re weighing heavily,” Shuckerow said. “And also, this is a starting point. The bill is not set in stone.”
Linda Behnken, executive director of Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, says she appreciates Young’s work on the bill, but she’s troubled by the flexibility provisions.
“We can’t support the bill as he’s introduced it,” she said. “Mostly because the bill weakens protections for fish. We think at this point it’s incredibly important to hold on to the progress that’s been made from the past reauthorization to end over-fishing.”
Behnken says Alaska’s commitment to science-based fisheries management is strong, so she doesn’t see the North Pacific Council changing its approach. But her group has been working in a coalition with small-boat commercial fisherman from New England and the Southeast, and they don’t see flexibility as a benefit to their fishing communities. Besides, Behnken says, over-fishing in waters off the Lower 48 can hurt Alaska, too.
“Anything that happens in this country that undermines that success, yeah, I think it hurts all the fisheries of this country, hurts the marketability of our fish in the global market that increasingly cares about sustainably harvesting resources.” Behnken said.
Young is in charge of House version of the fisheries bill, which will be marked up in the House Natural Resources Committee.