Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association protecting our ocean wilderness through public stewardship
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Magnuson-Stevens Act


The Magnuson Act became law in 1976 and was re-authorized by the 104th Congress as the "Magnuson-Stevens Act" on October 11th, 1996 when the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) became law. The SFA amended the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act). The SFA's changes to the Magnuson Act include numerous provisions requiring science, management and conservation action by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Management Act (MSA) is up for renewal, and a number of the reauthorization bills contain significant changes, including weakening current law and changing the term "overfished" to "diminished" or "depleted."

The renewal of the Magnuson-Stevens Act is supposed to be a step toward the commitment to ending over-fishing and rebuilding America's fisheries, a goal the President has declared essential in his Ocean Action Plan. The Bush Administration has made promises of achieving meaningful change for cleaner and healthier oceans with the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, a response to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy's report "An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st century." One of the largest goals in the Action Plan is to rebuild fisheries, yet some MSA renewal bills directly conflict with that goal.

The 1996 law limited individual fishing quotas with the idea was that catch limits per boat would produce a more sustainable catch. When people have a quota, they can buy and sell them along with the boat. Fisheries managers need to be able to use them where it makes sense. Per limit quotas are a right over the fish and encourages a long-term ownership stake in the resource, which in turn encourages a stake for the crew and the customers. A bill introduced by Senator Gordon Smith, R-Ore. offers the processor a quota to buy a certain amount of fish. This conflicts with the long-term ownership stake of the boat owner, because it is a right over the boat owners instead of the fish and could produce a monopoly in places where there is one dominant processor.

Chairman Richard Pombo introduced a bill (HR 5018) which would propose major loopholes in the MSA and allow fishery managers to allow fishing past overfishing levels and delays the restoration of depleted fish populations. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has provisions for environmental and public review, allowing the public to participate in fishery management decisions. This bill would exempt fishery management from NEPA transparency regulations and also exempt fishery data from The Freedom of Information Act. This allows fishery management to act quickly and secretly, but would allow them to make bad decisions which the public couldn't stop. Pombo's bill would also allow fishing councils to set rules inside marine sanctuaries, which runs contrary to the idea of a national marine sanctuary.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommends movement towards an eco-system management approach to secure sustainable fish population, but the changes to the MSA have not taken these recommendations to heart. Pombo's bill does not insure independent scientific advice, which is essential in setting up fishing catch limits. It does establish an annual catch limit using the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), but it does not carry an accountability measure (other bills included provisions of excess catch being deducted from the following year's limit to ensure the limit was followed). None of the proposed acts had provisions to protect the voice of small boat fishermen during program initiation. Bills must ensure that large operators do not dominate the process, and that small fishermen have a voice in the process. Pombo's bill also weakens requirements to rebuild fisheries within 10 years and does not require a quick end to overfishing. Extending the timeline in which to rebuild fisheries extends the problem, and truly ensures that those that created the problem don't have to fix it.

Delaying the restoration of "depleted" fish populations does not support the population. Fishery managers could give in to special interests and ignore scientific advice, without taking measures to save the population by restoring habitat or restricting take. Allowing fishing past levels deemed unsustainable undermines the system of having fishing limits by taking away the impetus to stop overfishing. We need to work towards sustainable catches, and Fishery management that does not disassociate fish from their ecoystem.The legislation calls for studies and research, but no fishery ecosystem plans, thereby not ensuring a sustainable fishery future. Make your voice heard and let your representatives know that you believe in a whole ecosystem fishery management approach.