Don Young: Setting the record straight on Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization

  • By Congressman Don Young
  • Tuesday, April 14, 2015 8:30pm
  • Opinion

The April 12 opinion piece by Stosh Anderson, “Don Young seeks to unwind ‘Alaska Model’ for fisheries in Magnuson-Stevens Act,” fails to represent the facts of the legislation I introduced to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

To set the record straight, I have always applauded and supported the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council for creating an unparalleled system of fisheries management. Through foresight and willingness, our fisheries managers have developed and implemented a management system that is considered the envy of the world, dubbed the “Alaska Model.” This system has worked extremely well in Alaska due to annual stock assessments that provide up-to-date information to fishery managers, a necessary tool for implementing an adaptive management system that allows for the optimal conservation and use of our fishery resources.

My legislation, HR 1335, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, will not change the way the NPFMC manages our fisheries. Alaska fishermen and the communities they support will continue to reap the benefits of our well-managed fishery resources and the NPFMC will continue to use sound scientific data in their management decisions. Regardless of the changes proposed to the MSA, the NPFMC will continue to utilize innovative practices to be leaders in fisheries management. To suggest otherwise is nothing more than a ploy to mislead the Alaska public and divide those united in providing meaningful reforms to federal fisheries management.

The issue, which was clearly ignored in Stosh Anderson’s commentary, is the application of the “Alaska Model” to the nation’s seven other regional fisheries councils, which was done in 2006 through amendments to the MSA. While the premise of the reform was good, the “Alaska Model” has not worked in other areas of the country as well as envisioned — for a number of reasons.

Over the course of four years I have listened to countless testimony in more than 10 committee hearings on the issues surrounding the MSA reauthorization, including from the NPFMC. Repeatedly, I’ve heard that “one size fits all” fisheries management does not work; that regions must have the ability to develop measures that work for their own regions and their own fisheries. For a state like Alaska that has seen its fair share of “one size fits all” policies from Washington, D.C., that often ignore our own unique obstacles and challenges, this is an issue we certainly understand.

There’s no question that the “Alaska Model” of fisheries management is what all regional fisheries management councils should strive to achieve. Unfortunately, due to a lack of timely stock surveys and the inability to provide adequate data for fisheries managers, other parts of the nation have not been able to successfully operate under the “Alaska Model.” This lack of data has led fisheries managers in the Gulf of Mexico, the mid-Atlantic and other regions of the country to institute layer upon layer of precautionary measures due to uncertainty. The results: fishermen are unnecessarily losing out on harvesting opportunities; fishing communities, consumers, and those reliant on the nation’s fishery resources are being unjustly punished.

My legislation works to give these other regional fisheries councils an increased level of flexibility and transparency to improve data collection and fisheries management. While still maintaining requirements to rebuild depleted fisheries and prevent overfishing, the legislation would allow councils to phase in rebuilding plans based on the biology of the fish stock rather than arbitrary and artificial deadlines. The bill would allow councils to adjust how they set Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) in order to address the issue of data poor stocks and the economic needs of the fishermen, but not above the overfishing levels recommended by the council’s scientific and statistical committee.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently funded a study by the National Academy of Sciences that suggests rebuilding times within the 2006 MSA reauthorization be reconsidered. NOAA has even recognized the need for changes included in HR 1335 in its own recommended revisions to its fisheries guidance.

To say I am attempting to “unwind” the legacy of Sen. Ted Stevens and the system of fisheries management we have in Alaska is entirely inaccurate. I have always supported the best interest of Alaska’s fishermen and coastal communities. I was one of the original authors of the MSA and have proudly taken part in every single reauthorization effort in order to protect our fisheries resources and the people it provides for. So before you begin believing the “sky is falling” rhetoric from groups that often don’t support commercial fishermen or coastal communities, I would encourage you to read the legislation I’ve put forward to provide meaningful reforms to our nation’s fisheries management and draw your own conclusions.

Don Young represents Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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