Trump presidency may bring changes to U.S. fishing laws

 Jan 17th, 2017 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Jan 17th, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Previously unsuccessful efforts to reform the US’s main federal fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, are positioned to move ahead under a Donald Trump administration.

New efforts to amend the US Magnuson-Stevens Act are expected from the new Congress, leaving some in industry concerned with any move away from a law judged by many to have worked reasonably well for four decades.

Some in industry have told Undercurrent News that they fear pressures to add more “flexibility” could allow political considerations to undermine science-driven decision-making currently enshrined in the bill, which forms the basis for most federal fishing regulation in US waters.

“Right now you might be looking at potential for a whole lot of changes and revisions,” said an Alaska-based source who wished to remain unnamed. “I would say there should be some anxiety about how far you go giving people flexibility that moves outside the scientific realm.”

But how drastically Magnuson Stevens might change, if at all, remains to be seen, he added.

HR 1335

One such effort, a bill known as HR 1335 sponsored by Alaskan Representative Don Young, faced a veto threat from president Barack Obama, who will be replaced by Trump on Jan. 20.

One of the bill’s central provisions would have reformed Magnuson-Stevens’s mandatory 10-year stock rebuilding timeline, incorporating additional flexibility. Instead of formally defining all stocks in decline as “overfished”, Young’s amendment would allow the term “depleted” when the reason for a stock’s decline is due to depredation or other non-fishing factors.

Additionally, the amendment would give fishery management councils, which owe their existence to Magnuson-Stevens, the option in some cases to sidestep requirements under the National Environmental Protection Act to perform full environmental impact assessments in addition to the fishery management plans already required.

HR 1335, which was widely supported by sportfishermens’ groups, was approved by the House of Representatives in 2015 in a 225-to-152 vote but did not advance past the senate.

John DePersenaire, fisheries policy and science researcher with the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) told Undercurrent that he expects there will be a push to add more flexibility to the law under the Trump administration. 

“We don’t know where Mr. Trump is on that particular bill, but we would have to assume that there’s a higher likelihood that a bill like 1335 would not be vetoed under Trump,” he said.

However, according to Eric Brazer, deputy director at the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, it’s still too early to tell if the push to amend Magnuson-Stevens will gain traction.

“it’s really going to come down to what the leadership looks like…right now we’re trying to figure out what Congress is going to look like, and until we know that we don’t really have any clarity,” he said.


Several sources indicated to Undercurrent that Magnuson-Stevens has never been a partisan issue, so it is difficult to guess what policies the incoming Republican administration would be likely to support.

“In the past we’ve had champions that were Democrats and champions that were Republicans,” said a source familiar with the policymaking process but who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I can’t say that Republican-controlled government will be worse off, fisheries management shouldn’t be a [partisan] issue.”

In an interview with Undercurrent on the sidelines of November’s Pacific Marine Expo, outgoing Obama appointee Eileen Sobeck, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries, echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t think this is a Democrat of Republican thing. I think there are some regions and some fisheries that are less happy with the way they think the law impacts them. I think those fisheries are still in a painful phase of regulation and rebuilding and what it hurts the most, you are less inclined to be aware of those long-term benefits,” she said.

Push to reform Magnuson Stevens

Magnuson-Stevens is generally reauthorized every 10 years or so, with the most recent changes occurring in 2006. Attempts to push forward changes have been ongoing for years, particularly from recreational and commercial fishermen trying to get the act to be more flexible, which they say could easily happen without compromising conservation efforts.

Particularly on the US east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, there has been a call for more flexibility in rules that some fishermen claim are doing nothing to truly help the environment and are based on shoddy data.

On the east coast, for instance, fishermen have been vocal about rigid rebuilding timelines that give regulators 10 years to rebuild stocks or face sometimes drastic quota cuts that they say could be mitigated by adding extra time for stocks showing improvement.

Several sources told Undercurrent that moving forward the flexibility will be necessary.

Partially in response to these calls, in 2016 NOAA used its rule-making powers to introduce “National Standard One”, which gave regional councils more flexibility to set catch limits. That change that was opposed by environmental groups.

However, many industry members have said that these are simply guidelines and are not enough.

Jim Donofrio, the RFA’s executive director, indicated to Undercurrent that his organization is currently working with other recreational fishing organizations to present a new bill to the house and the senate which he said will focus on conservation, access and rebuilding.

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