Chairman Stevens Highlights Bipartisan Approach in Passing Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

June 19, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today underscored the bipartisan approach that was essential to the Senate's passage of S. 2012, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2005. During his statement on the Senate floor, Chairman Stevens also highlighted key provisions of the legislation, which passed by unanimous consent.

The following is Chairman Stevens' prepared statement:

Mr. President, the Senate just passed critical legislation to ensure the productivity and sustainability of our nation’s fishery resources.  Senate Bill 2012 – the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2005 -- is the product of over a year and a half of discussions, hearings, drafts, revisions, and compromise. 

My good friend and Co-Chairman of the Commerce Committee, Senator Inouye (D-Hawaii), worked closely with me on drafting this bill to manage and regulate the fisheries in the United States Exclusive Economic Zone.  The bill is cosponsored by Senators Lott (R-Miss.), Hutchison (R-Texas), Snowe (R-Maine), Smith (R-Ore.), Vitter (R-La.), Kerry (D-Mass.), Boxer (D-Calif.), Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Pryor (D-Ark.). 

In a speech last week President Bush urged the Congress to pass legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  The Senate has now acted and I will work closely with the House to get our bills resolved in conference and get this important legislation to the President for his signature. 

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2005  implements many of the recommendations from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy – the first such Congressionally authorized commission to review our nation’s ocean policies and laws in over 35 years.  The recommendations of the Commission were important to the development of this Act.  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, the last time we reauthorized the Act.  

Specifically, 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 legislation establishes a council training program designed to prepare members on the numerous legal, scientific, economic, and conflict of interests requirements that apply to the fishery management process.  In addition, to address concerns over the transparency of the regional council process, the bill provides for additional financial disclosure requirements for council members and clarifies the Act’s conflict of interest and recusal requirements. 

The bill mandates the use of annual catch limits that shall not be exceeded to prevent overfishing and to preserve the sustainable harvest of fishery resources in all eight regional council jurisdictions.  The President mentioned in his speech last week that overfishing must end.  The bill the Senate passed today will achieve this goal by requiring every fishery management plan contain an annual catch limit be set at or below optimum yield – this will provide accountability in our fisheries and ensure that harvests do not exceed a level that provides for the continued productivity of the fishery resource. 

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 Limited Access Privilege Programs for the harvesting of fish.  Limited Access Privilege Programs, called LAPPs for short, include individual fishing quotas, and are expanded to allow for allocation of harvesting privileges under these programs to fishing communities or regional fishery associations, which can take into account impacts on shoreside interests in a rationalized fishery.  In addition, there is a five-year administrative review to ensure future quota programs are meeting the goals of the program and the conservation and management requirements of the Act. 

An important objective of the bill the Senate passed today is to provide a more uniform and consistent process for fishery management.  The bill requires a revision and updating of agency procedures for fishery management compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  This would allow for the development of one consistent process for Councils to consider the substantive requirements of NEPA under the timelines provided in the Magnuson-Stevens Act when developing fishery management plans, plan amendments, and regulations.  

The regional councils, the Administration, and to a lesser extent the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, all recommended the need for addressing the inconsistencies between the two Acts and resolving timelines or “process” issues such that Councils are not spending all their time and funding on developing litigation proof Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments under NEPA.

This legislation will strengthen the role of science in council decision making, another important recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, through a number of provisions.  It specifies that the role of the Scientific and Statistical Committees (SSCs) is to provide their councils with ongoing scientific advice needed for management decisions, which may include recommendations on acceptable biological catch or optimum yield, annual catch limits, or other mortality limits.  The SSCs are expected to advise the councils on a variety of other issues, including stock status and health, bycatch, habitat status, and socio-economic impacts. 

Improvements for data collection and better management are important enhancements to the overall effectiveness of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  The bill the Senate passed today 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.  It provides a mechanism for improving data relating to recreational fisheries by establishing a new national program for the registration of marine recreational fishermen who fish in federal waters.  And, it directs the Secretary, in cooperation with the councils, to create a regionally based Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program to develop technological devices and engineering techniques for minimizing bycatch, bycatch mortality, and post-release mortality. 

Finally, it is important to note the Magnuson-Stevens Act has worked well and provided for the effective conservation and management of U.S. fishery resources.  For instance, the fisheries managed by the North Pacific Council, which both the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission lauded as the example for proper fisheries management, does not have an overfished stock or endangered species of fish.  It consistently sets an optimum yield far below the acceptable biological catch and as a result the fisheries in its jurisdiction have remained sustainable and productive.  Our goal here is to improve the Act and allow for continued sustainability of the resource for generations to come.

Unfortunately, management internationally and especially on the high-seas is lacking.  Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU), as well as expanding industrial foreign fishing fleets and high bycatch levels, are threats to sustainable fisheries worldwide.  Ultimately, these types of unsustainable and destructive fishing practices on the high seas, threaten the good management that does take place in U.S. waters.    

The bill the Senate has passed today strengthens U.S. leadership in international conservation and management by requiring the Secretary of Commerce to establish an international compliance and monitoring program, provide reports to Congress on progress in reducing IUU fishing, promote international cooperation, and strengthen the ability of regional fishery management organizations to combat IUU and other harmful fishing practices.  In addition, the legislation allows for 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 enjoyed very much the bipartisan spirit that has defined this legislation and in particular working closely with my Commerce Committee Co-Chairman Senator Inouye to produce such important legislation to ensure the conservation and management of our nation’s fishery resources. 

Thank you Mr. President.