Sunday, May 24, 2015


H.R. 1335, the so-called Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, grinds forward in the House of Representatives.

After it was voted out of the Natural Resources Committee, a floor vote was expected during the third week of May, but that has been delayed until June.  In the meantime, the House Rules Committee issued the proposed rule for consideration of the bill, which authorizes debate on eight amendments as well as the bill itself.

Such amendments include one by Louisiana Congressman Garrett Graves that would strip the National Marine Fisheries Service of management authority for red snapper, and hand such authority over to the states.  The same amendment was actually decisively rejected by the Natural Resources Committee in April, but Rep. Graves apparently believes that it still stands a chance to be adopted on the House floor.

All in all, the speed with which H.R. 1335 moved forward in the House, despite the minor delay in the floor vote, was a setback for anglers and other conservation interests who don’t want to see the current, successful science-based management measures replaced by the sort of weak and easily-evaded measures that the House bill would allow.

However, responsible anglers and other conservation advocates got a big boost during the week, after the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a Statement of Administration Policy which opened with the welcome words that

“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1335, which would amend the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), because it would oppose arbitrary and unnecessary requirements that would harm the environment and the economy.  The MSA currently provides the flexibility needed to effectively manage the Nation’s marine commercial, recreational and subsistence fisheries.  In contrast, H.R. 1335 would undermine the use of science-based actions to end and prevent overfishing.
“The current requirements of MSA are working—the percentage of stocks that are subject to overfishing and the percentage of stocks that are in an overfished state are at historic lows.  H.R. 1335 would interfere with the tremendous success achieved in rebuilding overfished fisheries by setting rebuilding targets that are not based on sound, credible science, and that unnecessarily extend the time to rebuild fisheries.  In making these changes, H.R. 1335 introduces a series of ambiguous provisions that could improperly extend rebuilding periods, delaying the significant economic and environmental benefits of rebuild fisheries to both fishermen and the Nation as a whole…”
The White House statement pretty well summed up why H.R. 1335 is a very bad bill, although plenty of us with far less influence but a lot more free time have burned up thousands of words setting forth all of its flaws in detail.
However, the key words of the White House statement come at its end, where it unambiguously says that

“…H.R. 1335 would introduce uncertainty and delays in rebuilding fisheries, undermine science-based management, weaken the protections provided by other important environmental statutes, and generate sector and interstate conflicts.
If the President were presented with H.R. 1335, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
And just like that, the playing field changed.

No, the fight is not over, and anyone who believes that it is would be very foolish.  But the White House statement did buy some time.

Even if the House does pass H.R. 1335 in June, which it probably will, there is no companion bill in the Senate, and few Senators are likely to fall on their swords to sponsor a similar bill after the White House threatened a veto.  Right now, it is likely that even Senators who would like to weaken Magnuson-Stevens will be playing things close to the vest, trying to interpret the White House statement and deciding just how bad a bill might be able to be and still escape being vetoed.

It is also possible that there is just not enough appetite in the Senate for significantly amending a law that is working well, and that instead of producing the sort of radical reauthorization bill that will probably come out of the House, various Senators will pick their fights, chipping away at particular provisions that their constituents find objectionable.

With any luck, that is what we also saw last week, when Senator Marco Rubio of Florida reintroduced his Florida Fisheries Improvement Act.  Although the bill, despite its name, would make some changes to Magnuson-Stevens that have nationwide impact, such changes are nowhere near as far-reaching as the provisions in H.R. 1335, and are generally consistent with the stated purpose of the bill, which is

“To amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to support sustainable conservation and management for the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic fisheries and the communities that rely on them, and for other purposes.”
One still might not like Senator Rubio's bill.  However, shince he is the Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, the fact that he has chosen to introduce such a modest bill at this time, rather than something far broader, could be an encouraging sign, suggesting that a companion bill to H.R. 1335 will not be coming out of his Subcommittee at any time soon.

At any rate, it provides reason to hope that real damage to Magnuson-Stevens, just as the White House Statement of Administration Policy provides reason to hope that H.R. 1335 will not become law.

Even so, conservation-minded anglers must remain diligent, as there will inevitably  be repeated efforts to weaken Magnuson-Stevens throughout this session of Congress.  Like a B-movie monster, H.R. 1335 is going to be very hard to get rid of, and will keep coming back time and again no matter how hard folks try to kill it.

We must never forget that the opponents of science-based fisheries management can lose time and again and still not be any worse off.  

On the other hand, we only have to lose once to see our fishery management system regress to the days when overfishing and overfished stocks were the norm, and the abundance that we enjoy today, thanks to Magnuson-Stevens, was only a distant dream.

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