Our lone Congressman, Don Young, recently introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize our federal fisheries management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The law is the foundation of sustainable fisheries management, and bears the names and legacy of legendary Senators Ted Stevens and Warren Magnuson. Representative Young’s proposed legislation unwinds the important work the Senators did to ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries.
The last reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, in 2006, applied Alaska’s model of federal fisheries management — setting catch limits based on science — to the Nation, and required accountability measures to ensure rebuilding of depleted stocks. Young’s reauthorization bill guts these important advances. Under Young’s bill, annual catch limits, set to keep fish stocks healthy for the long run, would no longer be necessary for managers. Reasonable timelines put in place to replenish depleted fisheries could also be loosened or open-ended, delaying economic and recreational opportunities that come from healthy stocks.
When introducing this bill, Young claimed that applying the Alaska model to the rest of the country was a misguided approach, as other regions did not have adequate science to manage to Alaska’s standards. What the bill does is bring us down to the lowest common denominator, rather than striving to improve our fisheries management. If other regions don’t have the science to manage, we should expand data and scientific research, not gut our fisheries management law.
Young’s reauthorization bill is titled the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.” In reality, it’s quite the opposite. We know that allowing catch limits above scientifically sustainable levels may result in short term economic gains, but in the long-term it’s bad for communities, fishermen, and processors. Harvesting at levels that exceed sustainable models is a downward spiral that reduces harvest opportunities.
Sustainable fisheries management is a pillar of Alaska’s management system and our constitution. Lowering the bar on federal fisheries management requirements could not only threaten our fish stocks, but puts at risk the reputation for sustainable management in which Alaska has invested significant resources and marketing dollars.
The bill put forward by Don Young is bad for Alaska and guts Alaska’s legacy of sustainable fisheries management. It’s not clear why our Congressman would introduce a bill that is actually bad for Alaskan communities and the nations fish stocks. What we need is an MSA reauthorization that moves us forward, providing opportunities to better manage fisheries, bycatch and protect fishing communities by providing opportunities for fishermen to access our fisheries. We need confidence that our fisheries managers put the long-term health of fish stocks first and that will be in the best interest of our coastal economies.
Stosh Anderson is a fisherman from Kodiak and a former North Pacific Fishery Management Council member.