Alaska’s fishing interests will still be well represented in Washington, D.C., despite a recent shuffling of the legislative deck after former Sen. Mark Begich lost his re-election bid and his chairmanship of a key Senate subcommittee.
Though Begich is gone, longtime Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young will take the lead for the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in the 114th Congress and continue on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Begich was chair of the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, and as one of his final acts introduced a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, the law governing federal fisheries.
The House Committee on Natural Resources will be restructured in the 114th Congress; all ocean-related issues will be heard in the Water and Power Subcommittee and redubbed the Water, Power, and Oceans Subcommittee, whose membership will be finalized in January. House members can chair only on subcommittee, and Young will retain his chairmanship of Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
All pending legislation expires at the end of the current Congress, however, and any MSA bill will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress. Although not the chair of the committee, spokesman Matthew Shuckerow said Young will introduce the MSA in the new Congress.
“He’s excited to make this a priority,” Shuckerow said.
Republican Dan Sullivan defeated Begich in the 2014 midterm elections, and while he has been assigned to the Commerce Committee, he won’t have the seniority to chair a Senate subcommittee.
The act, or MSA, was first passed in 1976, and most recently updated in 2006. Now it’s up for reauthorization, with amendments likely.
As a longtime Alaska representative, Young has more history with fisheries than his recently elected Senate counterpart and seen much of the most important Alaska fisheries legislation pushed through Congress. In the 1970s on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, he worked on the 200-mile fishing limit, or exclusive economic zone, which was critical to ending foreign fishing off Alaska’s coast.
Begich had a solid reputation for good relationships with fishing interests: he vocally opposed the Pebble Mine, opposed a farm-raised and genetically-modified salmon, pushed for federal ocean monitoring for the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on lucrative species, passed legislation working toward a federal crackdown on illegal fishing, and had the endorsement of several commercial fishing trade groups like United Fishermen of Alaska.
Sullivan, though formerly Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources commissioner under former Gov. Parnell, has less working experience with the commercial fishing industry and less clout.
Young chaired the House Resources Committee in the 104th, 105th, and 106th Congresses, and served as its ranking Republican member since 2007, a year after Congress last reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
In 2013, Young pushed the Port States Measures Agreement Act of 2014, which placed extensive limitations on foreign fishing vessels in an effort to combat illegal, unregulated, and undeclared fish from entering the U.S. market.
In May 2014, Young added amendments to the MSA asking for greater subsistence representation in the federal management of Alaska fisheries, proposing that a subsistence member be added to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees nearly all fishing in federal Alaska waters.
The proposal has seen mixed approval so far, as the council currently has six Alaska delegates out of 11 voting seats. Non-Alaska seats might resent one more Alaskan vote on the council.
DJ Summers can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.