Changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act Considered

December 15, 2005

Kathleen Goldstein, Environmental Defense, 202-572-3243

(December 15, 2005 – Washington, DC)  Today, the Senate considered changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which governs all fishery management activities within the federal 200-mile limit through eight Regional Fishery Management Councils.  The bill contains several important conservation reforms, including limited access privilege programs (LAPPs), key management tools that can make our fisheries more sustainable and profitable.  Although the original legislation introduced last month contained provisions that hampered the LAPP process and limited their effectiveness, Environmental Defense successfully joined with fishermen and community leaders to amend these provisions, and new language was included in the bill today.
“The Commerce Committee’s action takes the country a step closer to a new era for ocean stewardship in which conservation can make good business sense for fishermen,” said Environmental Defense Oceans Program Director David Festa.  “This will lead to economically viable fishing communities, better recreational opportunities and supplies of fresh seafood.  Environmental Defense commends the Senate for working actively with fishermen and the conservation community to craft a workable solution.”
LAPPs – catch shares - have proven to be environmentally and economically effective in New Zealand, British Columbia and Alaska.  Under this system, fishermen are allocated shares of the annual catch, which they can buy and sell with other fishermen.  Unlike government mandates limiting fishermen’s flexibility, catch shares allow fishermen to work year-round when market and weather conditions are most advantageous.  Catch shares help fishermen cut costs, improve the quality of their fish, maximize dockside prices and prevent the waste of millions of fish each year that must be discarded.  Just as shares of a company become more valuable if the company is well-managed, fishermen’s shares gain value when fish populations increase through a well managed fishery.  The fishermen now have a financial interest in conservation measures that protect the ocean.
At the same time, the bill includes important design features that affect whether a system of catch shares will be fair, equitable and promote good stewardship of our nation’s fisheries.  These features include methods for determining who gets initial allocations of catch shares, how shares can be traded and the nature of conservation and other safeguards.
“The recent U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended catch shares as a key management tool.  And, in September, the Administration explicitly called for doubling the existing number of these programs,” said Environmental Defense Oceans Program Deputy Director Johanna Thomas.  “Clearly there is broad political support for these programs.”
There is stakeholder support as well.  Environmental Defense is working with several fishing groups in New England to support their efforts to develop fishing cooperatives, working in California to promote working waterfronts and in the Pacific to develop a quota system for groundfish.  We are also working closely with fishermen, government officials and other partners in the Gulf of Mexico to design fishing quota systems for red snapper and reef fish, shrimp and other key fisheries.  Gulf snapper fisherman Captain Donald Waters acknowledges that “we need quota programs to save the fish and our livelihoods, which are jeopardized by overfishing caused by out-of-date regulations.”  Recent hurricanes have only highlighted the need for better fisheries management to improve the Gulf’s struggling fisheries.
Fishermen in these fisheries strongly support catch share programs, but in its original form, the Senate bill placed unnecessary obstacles to establishing these programs by creating onerous, bureaucratic hurdles. The earlier bill called for  a 50% vote by permit holders to discuss enacting a catch share program, and an additional 2/3 majority vote of permit holders in New England and the Gulf of Mexico before finalizing a plan.
Environmental Defense quickly coordinated a strong response by community leaders and fishermen to reach an agreement with the Senate Commerce Committee on how to move forward with these innovative tools.  The committee passed an amended bill today that allows for flexibility in starting catch share programs, allowing catch share programs to be launched through the council process or by a majority petition by the fishermen in the fishery.  For New England and Gulf fisheries, the final referendum will apply only to individual fishing quota programs and still require a super majority vote.
With the approval of the Senate bill by the Commerce Committee, the bill will head to the Senate floor next year.  The House has yet to offer a bill.
“Catch shares are one of the only management tools that benefit both fish and fishermen.  They expand the economic benefits of the fisheries, preserve maritime heritage and protect the environment,” said Environmental Defense Ocean Policy Specialist Amanda Leland.  “When the Senate votes on this early next year, it is an opportunity for Congress to do the right thing by making sure these key management tools can be put to work.”