WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee hearing on implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—First, I want to congratulate Senator Begich, the new Chairman of this subcommittee, Senator Snowe, the returning Ranking Member, and welcome all the new and returning members of this subcommittee. The Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and our oceans are in very good hands here.
Our oceans and coasts are sources of great resources and prosperity. The U.S. commercial seafood industry generates approximately $104 billion in sales and $45 billion in income each year. More than 1.5 million American jobs are tied to the commercial seafood industry.
But fishing is not just a commercial pursuit. It’s also an American recreational pastime and a way of life. In 2008 alone, Americans took more than 85 million saltwater fishing trips. Millions more taught their son or daughter how to cast a line and fish for the first time.
Simply put, we’ve depended on the sea for our survival, our economy, and our recreation.
This should and must continue.
But we know fishing stocks are down. They’ve been declining for years.
If future generations are to continue to enjoy the bounty of the sea, we must think beyond next month or next year—we must think about the next decade and the next century. We have to conserve and protect fish stocks now in order to ensure their survival tomorrow.
In 2006, Congress made changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act. These changes were aimed at ensuring the long-term viability of fish stocks.
At times, the debate over the bill was contentious. But the bill’s passage was a bipartisan success. The reauthorization provided a blueprint to increase data collection, end overfishing and restore and rebuild the fish stocks that so many Americans rely and depend on.
Now, I know the balance between stewardship and sustaining livelihoods is a delicate one. I realize that many who depend on our fisheries are worried about what the implementation of some of these new provisions will mean for them, especially in this time of economic uncertainty.
It is important that we listen to these concerns. The problem of overfishing did not happen overnight; its solution will not come tomorrow. It will take time, and we might have to make some adjustments along the way. That is why everyone must have a seat at the table. The only way we can solve this problem is together.
It’s clear that the changes we made to the Magnuson-Stevens Act are forcing us to confront issues that most have been unwilling or unable to address in the past. While this is not easy to do, it is critical that we do it. The survival of our nation’s fisheries and our way of life depend on it.
With that, I want to thank our witnesses for agreeing to be here today. I look forward to their testimony.
Senator Mark BegichChairmanU.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
Good morning. Welcome to all our witnesses and other guests to this first hearing of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard in the 112th Congress.
This also marks my first hearing as the subcommittee chairman, a responsibility I take especially seriously because of its jurisdiction over so many issues key to our economy: from fisheries, oceans, weather forecasting and the multiple roles played by the Coast Guard in Alaska.
Today we will hear testimony from two distinguished panels of witnesses regarding the implementation of key provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act—or MSA—that were added by Congress when it was last reauthorized.
We hope to learn more about the impacts these changes and additions to the MSA are having on the Nation’s fisheries and the individuals, businesses, and communities who depend upon them.
This landmark legislation was originally sponsored by several great friends of Alaska – Senator Magnuson, our own senator, Ted Stevens, and Senator Inouye, and cosponsored by several Republican and Democratic Members on this Committee. It represented a truly bipartisan effort to carefully manage one of America’s greatest assets – our fisheries.
As most of us in this hearing room today know, marine fisheries conservation and management is a subject this nation has struggled with not just for years, not just for decades, but for centuries. These issues are never easy.
One of the most challenging has been, and likely will always be, how to properly balance the need for responsible stewardship of our fisheries for future generations with the needs of the individuals, businesses, and communities who rely on them today.
In Alaska, we’ve had a generally positive experience under MSA. Since taking control of these fisheries from foreign fleets in 1976, Alaska now produces over half the nation’s fish landings and our major fisheries like salmon, pollock, halibut and cod are certified as sustainable. In fact, I contend Alaska has the best managed fisheries in the world.
We operate under strict catch limits or “Hard Tacks,” as they’re known. (TAC is an acronym for Total Allowable Catch). None of our groundfish stocks is considered overfished and most operate under some form of limited access program.
Not that these actions are non-controversial. Fishermen are fishermen so argue at length at council meetings. They feel the pain when quotas are cuts downturns in fisheries cycles.
But at the end of the day the Alaska fishing industry has learned to work within the rules of MSA and it has largely prospered.
I’m pleased to welcome a fellow Alaskan, Stephanie Madsen, a former chair of the North Pacific Council and now executive director of the At-sea Processors Association to address the Alaska perspective.
Given how contentious fisheries issues can often be, it is important to remind everyone that the 2006 reauthorization wasn’t your typical fisheries bill. At the end of the day, the Senate passed it by unanimous consent, and the House passed it under suspension of the rules.
The 2006 reauthorization made several changes to the MSA in order to improve its effectiveness and strengthen fisheries conservation and management domestically and internationally.
Most notably, it amended the MSA to require for the first time the use of annual catch limits and accountability measures in all management plans in order to end overfishing, and provided fishermen and the councils with new tools to rationalize fisheries where they wish to do so.
Equally important, it imposed a requirement that all management plans for overfished stocks include a timeline for rebuilding that is as short as possible, and generally not longer than ten years.
The 2006 reauthorization also made important changes to the MSA aimed at improving the accuracy and reliability of data on recreational fishing activity in order to better manage so-called “mixed use” fisheries—fisheries that support charter and private recreational fishing as well as commercial fishing—including through the authorization of a new national saltwater angler registry.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how these and other changes and updates to the MSA are being implemented and what effects they are having.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Douglas DeMasterActing Director of Scientific Programs and Chief Science AdvisorNational Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
Mr. Eric C. SchwaabAssistant AdministratorNMFS
Witness Panel 2
Mr. William R. BirdAttorney at Law and Private Angler
Mr. Vito GiacalonePolicy DirectorNortheast Seafood Coalition
Dr. William C. HogarthInterim Director, Florida Institute of OceanographyUniversity of South Florida
Ms. Stephanie MadsenExecutive DirectorAt Sea Processors Association