Sunday, September 18, 2022



Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), Chair of the House Natural Resources Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, has long been interested in reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and updating that law to reflect current and future challenges confronting federal fishery managers.

He began, in 2019, by traveling across the nation and visiting every coast, where he held “listening sessions” in an effort to figure out what Magnuson-Stevens got right, and also to figure out where there were gaps in the law that needed fixing in order to improve the federal fishery management system. 

After hearing stakeholder concerns, Rep. Huffman distilled them into what became the discussion draft of a possible reauthorization bill, which was then circulated among stakeholders to gain further input on the issues addressed therein.

Finally, in July 2021, Rep. Huffman and Representative Ed Case (D-HI) introduced H.R. 4690, the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act, which was intended to help fisheries adapt to climate change, provide additional support for fishing communities, improve the federal fishery management process, improve the data used by fishery managers, and provide additional protections for marine ecosystems.

When he introduced such legislation, Rep. Huffman noted that

“Americans coast-to-coast depend on healthy oceans and fisheries, whether it’s the seafood we eat, time spent on the water as recreational anglers, or the economic engine supporting working waterfronts and coastal communities.  We know that the MSA has worked well, but new approaches are needed in the era of climate change, new technologies, evolving science needs, and increasing ocean use.  Through our stakeholder-driven, science-based approach, we have crafted legislation that rises to the challenges of the 21st Century and includes critical updates to this landmark law.  With the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act we can strengthen fishing communities and ensure a high standard of sustainable fisheries continues well into the future…”

His legislation takes on the challenges of warming oceans and shifting fish stocks, something that the regional fishery management councils have not yet been willing to do.  Such shifting stocks have had a particular impact on commercial and recreational fishermen in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, causing Rep. Huffman to note

“We heard concerns about climate change everywhere.  But the concerns are different depending on where you are.  So in the North Atlantic, it’s ground zero for shifting stocks…”

Should H.R. 4690 become law in its current form, it would require fishery managers to consider climate-related spatial shifts in stock abundance, and create a mechanism for regional fishery management councils to address stocks that shift into waters under another council’s jurisdiction. 

The current version of H.R. 4690 also addresses thorny issues of fisheries science.  It both encourages and establishes standards for the use of electronic technologies for fisheries management, and also creates a formal framework for planning and conducting stock assessments.  Perhaps more importantly, it requires that, if recreational fishery data is generated by more than one source,

“the Secretary shall implement measures, which may include the use of calibration methods, as needed for the timely integration of such data to assure consistent methods and approaches are used for monitoring of catch against the relevant annual catch limits and for other fisheries science and management purposes.”

Such language, if codified in Magnuson-Stevens, should effectively put an end to the sort of gamesmanship that we’ve seen in the recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, where various organizations associated with the “anglers’ rights” community and the recreational fishing industry have been taking advantage of the differences between the data produced by state and federal fishery managers to perpetuate recreational overharvest in both Alabama and Mississippi.

H.R. 4690 looked like it had a good chance to win passage in the House, until Rep. Don Young (R-AK) died on March 18, 2022.

Rep. Young was the longest-serving Republican representative in the history of the House.  At the time of his death, he had been in office for 49 years; in 2017 he became the longest-sitting representative from either party then serving in the House of Representatives. 

Before being elected to the House, Rep. Young had, for a while, worked as a commercial fisherman, and he was always among the most influential representatives with respect to fisheries policy.  He was co-author of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act—which ultimately became Magnuson-Stevens—in 1976, and was always involved with any major piece of fisheries legislation that might impact his constituents.

Fishing is an extremely important part of Alaska’s economy, and Rep. Young’s service earned him the respect of other members of the House.  Thus, upon his death, Rep. Huffman announced that he would place all action on H.R. 4690 on hold until a special election was held and a new representative from Alaska was seated.  Such election has now occurred and, last Tuesday, Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) was sworn in to complete Rep. Young’s unfinished term.

From the perspective of fisheries conservation and management, it’s hard to imagine a better choice than Rep. Peltola.  An Alaskan Native belonging to the Yup’ik people, Rep. Peltola is no stranger to fishery issues.  She is a former director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, where she delved into issues related to declining crab and salmon stocks; her campaign for Rep. Young’s former seat was built around “fish, family, and freedom.” 

Rep. Peltola has been named to the House Natural Resources Committee, where she will speak to Alaskans’ concerns with respect to how natural resources—including fisheries—are managed by the federal government.  Now that she's seated, Rep. Huffman has decided to move forward with H.R 4690.  His office has released a statement confirming that

“the panel has now scheduled a markup for next Wednesday.

“Peltola addressed the issue in a brief interview as she boarded a train in the basement of the Capitol.

“Asked what her priorities would be as a new member of the Natural Resources Committee, she said: ‘Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, for starters.’

“When asked whether that could be done quickly, she replied: ‘Fingers crossed.’”

Because yes, Rep. Huffman’s reauthorization bill still faces an uncertain future.  With only a few days left before representatives go back to their districts to campaign for the mid-term election, an election where newly-minted Representative Peltola with be forced to again fight for her newly-won seat, passage of the bill will almost certainly have to wait for the lame duck session.  Just getting the bill marked up ahead of the pre-election recess represents remarkable progress.

If the bill does pass in the lame duck session, there is no guarantee that it will find enough support in the Senate, where 10 of 50 often conservation-hostile Republicans will have to back it if the bill is to become law.

Still, H.R. 4690 is in a far better place today than it was a week ago.

Will it be able to pass?

As Rep. Peltola already said, “Fingers crossed.”




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