Marine fisheries of the United States are managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). This Act is reauthorized once per decade, a process currently under way in Washington, D.C. Recently, House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo introduced a MSA bill to parallel one introduced on the Senate side late last year by Senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye. The House bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Don Young of Alaska. Both MSA reauthorization bills include national standards for future limited access privilege (LAP) programs, which include fishery cooperatives (now called Regional Fishery Associations) and individual fishing quotas or IFQs.
An ad hoc group of fishermen (dubbed MSA 2005-6) based in Alaska but networking with fishermen nation-wide has been working with Congress to ensure this bill contained LAP standards that kept access privileges tied to the waterfront and in the hands of independent, coastal community-based fishermen. MSA 2005-6 has also championed maintaining open, competitive markets for fishermen to sell their catch. Both the Senate bill and the bill recently introduced by Chairman Pombo contain concepts promoted by MSA 2005-6. Senators Stevens and Innouye, along with Congressmen Pombo, Frank and Young, have listened carefully to the concerns of fishermen affected by halibut/sablefish IFQs, the American Fisheries Act, and crab rationalization and have responded with a bill that strives to enhance the positive attributes of these management programs while minimizing the negative impacts.
While critical provisions in the bill may need further strengthening to ensure the continued health of the working waterfront, Alaskans are fortunate to have influential Congressmen (and their hard-working staff) who recognize the value of marine resources and the importance of commercial fisheries to coastal economies. Fishermen should take a minute to call Senator Stevens and Representative Young to express their support for MSA language that keeps LAP shares tied to the waterfront, promotes competitive, open markets, and ensures that all future limited access programs comply with the new LAP standards. In particular, fishermen should ask that the new term, Regional Fishery Associations (similar to harvester/processor cooperatives) be defined in the legislation as an optional opportunity for voluntary participation by harvesters, processors and/or communities. Having participation voluntary is essential to preserving competitive, open markets.
Fishermen might want to follow that phone call with one to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner’s office to ensure state support for the same standards and to convince the Commissioner that the Gulf of Alaska groundfish plan currently under development should not be exempted from these standards. Your future, and the future of the next generation of fishermen, depends on it.
Linda Behnken, of Sitka, and Stosh Anderson of Kodiak are a commercial fishermen and former members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
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