Since it was first signed into law in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been the biggest tool in the federal toolbox to regulate America’s fisheries. This year, Congress is getting closer to re-authorizing the act, with some changes.
Senator Mark Begich is playing a key role in that process. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries, Begich is in a good position to help steer the re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act through Congress. He says his committee has been working hard on that task, holding hearings in Washington and listening sessions around the country, including in Alaska.
Begich says the House of Representatives has introduced its bill reauthorizing MSA. But the Senate?
"We have not laid down our bill yet," said Begich. "We're probably another six to eight weeks away form that. My hope is to finish out the second quarter of this year with a bill coming out of committee and headed to the floor."
Begich says the only thing that might hold back a vote on the MSA is that 2014 is an election year. He hopes that some of that politicking might be avoided by the fact that the two primary sponsors of the Senate bill are Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and himself.
During listening sessions, Begich says he has heard from commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen from all over the country. Through all of that conversation, he has heard some key points made over and over.
One has to do with climate change, something that was not addressed at all in the original 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act.
"Now that is becoming a discussion point," say Begich. "It's having some impact on the conversation. We need to have a little more understanding on how it's going to be melded into the legislation at the end of the day."
Begich has also heard that fishermen would like to see more transparency in the public process regarding fisheries decision-making. Subsistence fishermen in Alaska have also told the senator they would like more recognition in the MSA.
And of course, as in just about any fisheries-related debate, people are concerned about the science.
"I think there's a real desire that there is continued levels of funding for the research, stock assessments and analysis of habitat because without that, we cannot do the right kinds of allocations," he said.
Begich says an important part of the process has been educating his colleagues in Congress on fisheries issues.
The Magnuson Stevens Act has been amended many times over the years, most recently in 2006.