Chairman Stevens Statement Upon Introduction of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2005

November 15, 2005

Washington, D.C. – Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Co-Chairmen Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) today introduced the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2005.

Chairman Stevens made the following statement on the Senate floor upon the bill's introduction:

I introduce today, along with my good friend and co-author Senator Dan Inouye, a bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. This legislation reauthorizes the law that manages and regulates fisheries in the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. It is co-sponsored by Senators Snowe, Cantwell, and Vitter.

The law was originally enacted in 1976. At that time, it was titled the Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Senator Warren Magnuson and I developed the law after Warren sent me to monitor the Law of the Sea negotiations, which took place all over the world. A concept considered during thoe negotiations was the expansion of a coastal nation’s sovereignty over its seaward waters out to 200 miles. Warren and I took a bipartisan approach to the legislation and developed a bill that established our country’s exclusive right to harvest fishery resources from 3 to 200 miles and put in place one of the most successful federal/state management systems ever enacted. This system recognized the complexity of our differing fish stocks and the unique regional approaches needed to manage these resources.

This is now the 7th reauthorization of the Act we created over 30 years ago. It is the first reauthorization I have been a part of as Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over this legislation.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2005 implements many of the recommendations made by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy – the first such commission authorized by Congress to review our nation’s ocean policies and laws in over 35 years. The Commission’s recommendations were important to the bill we present to the Senate today. The intent of this legislation is to authorize these recommendations and to build on some of the sound fishery management principals we passed in the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996, which was the last time we reauthorized the Act.

Our bill will preserve and strengthen the Regional Fishery Management Councils. The eight Regional Councils located around the United States and Caribbean Islands are a model of federal oversight benefiting from local innovation and management approaches. This reauthorization establishes a council training program designed to prepare members for the numerous legal, scientific, economic, and conflict of interest requirements which apply to the fishery management process. In addition, this reauthorization addresses concerns over the transparency of the Regional Council process – it provides additional financial disclosure requirements for Council members and clarifies the Act’s conflict of interest and recusal requirements.

In order to prevent overfishing and preserve the sustainable harvest of fishery resources in all eight Regional Council jurisdictions, this bill mandates the use of annual catch limits which shall not be exceeded. Under the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act, overfishing of overfished stocks was to end. To meet this goal, we required the implementation of rebuilding plans which would restore any overfished species to sustainable levels. It has been almost 10 years since we passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act and overfishing of overfished stocks remains a significant problem. The legislation we are introducing today requires every fishery management plan to contain an annual catch limit which is set at or below optimum yield, based on the best scientific information available. This bill also requires that any harvests exceeding the annual catch limit be deducted from the annual catch limit for the following year.

An important recommendation from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy was to establish national standards for quota programs. Our legislation establishes national guidelines for the harvesting of fish for Limited Access Privilege Programs, which are called LAPPs. These guidelines would require that any LAPP must accomplish important objectives, including: assisting in rebuilding an overfished fishery, reducing capacity in a fishery that is overcapitalized, promoting the safety of human life at sea, promoting conservation and management, and providing a system for monitoring, management, and enforcement of the program.

The Regional Councils, the Administration, and to a lesser extent the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, all recommended we address the inconsistencies between the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the National Environmental Protection Act. They recommended we resolve timeline or “process” issues which have required Councils to spend much of their time and funding developing litigation-proof Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments under NEPA. This bill provides a uniform process under which Councils can consider the substantive requirements of NEPA while adhering to the timelines found in Magnuson-Stevens when they are developing fishery management plans, plan amendments, and regulations.

Several of the provisions in this bill strengthen the role of science in Council decision-making, which was another strong recommendation made by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. Our bill specifies that the Scientific and Statistical Committees (SSCs) are to provide their Councils with on-going scientific advice needed for management decisions. This may include recommendations on acceptable biological catch or optimum yield, annual catch limits, or other mortality limits. The SSCs are also expected to advise the Councils on a variety of other issues, including stock status and health, bycatch, habitat status, and socio-economic impacts.

We have enhanced the overall effectiveness of this Act by improving data collection and management. Our legislation authorizes a national cooperative research and management program, which would be implemented on a regional basis and conducted through partnerships between federal and state managers, commercial and recreational fishing industry participants, and scientists. This will improve data related to recreational fisheries by establishing a new national program for the registration of marine recreational fishermen who fish in federal waters. Our legislation also directs the Secretary, in cooperation with the Councils, to create a regionally-based Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program, which will develop technological devices and engineering techniques for minimizing bycatch, bycatch mortality, and post-release mortality.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act has worked well. It has enabled effective conservation and management of our fishery resources and allowed for sustainable harvests. Both the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission singled out the fisheries managed by the North Pacific Council – which do not have an overfished or endangered species of fish – as an example of proper fisheries management. The Council consistently sets an optimum yield far below the acceptable biological catch, and the fisheries in its jurisdiction have remained sustainable and abundant. Our goal is to build upon this success and ensure the sustainability of this resource for generations to come.

Unfortunately, management internationally and especially on the high-seas is lacking. Industrial foreign fleets continue to expand and fish in remote and deep parts of the oceans. When we first developed this legislation over 30 years ago, such practices were unimaginable. The illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing on the high-seas now threatens the good management taking place in U.S. waters that we control.

Our bill strengthens U.S. leadership in international conservation and management. It requires the Secretary of Commerce to establish an international compliance and monitoring program and to provide Congress with reports on our progress in reducing IUU fishing. This bill also requires the Secretary to promote international cooperation and strengthen the ability of regional fishery management organizations to combat IUU and other harmful fishing practices. In addition, our legislation allows the use of measures authorized under the High Seas Driftnet Act to force compliance in cases where regional or international fishery management organizations are unable to stop IUU fishing.

I have been pleased with the bipartisan approach we have taken on this bill. Our co-chairman, Senator Inouye, and I have worked together on this reauthorization, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Commerce Committee to move this legislation forward.