New England Fisheries

Magnuson-Stevens Act, ‘a good news story’

A juvenile black sea bass off the north shore of Massachusetts. Black sea bass populations are shifting north due to warming waters. Photo: Alex Shure

The Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard recently hosted a hearing in anticipation of the 40th Anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Senators on the subcommittee examined the successes and opportunities for improvement of this very important law. The Honorable Samuel Rauch, Deputy Assistant Administrator for NOAA Regulatory Programs served as the sole witness giving testimony to and answering questions from the Senators.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act, first enacted in 1976, governs our nation’s fisheries and is credited with balancing conservation and economic issues. As Senator Dan Sullivan articulated, the science-based and stakeholder-driven process of the Magnuson-Stevens Act has created the world’s best-managed fisheries, and as emphasized by Senator Cory Booker, the law has contributed to the overall growth of our ocean economy.

No major actions or decisions resulted from the hearing, but it certainly painted a picture of the issues facing fishing industries around the country. As we approach the 40th Anniversary of the passing of the Magnuson-Stevens Act as well as a potential reauthorization, the Senators were interested to hear from Mr. Rauch as to how the law can be used or altered to address some of their concerns.

The subcommittee sits three Senators from New England: Senator Kelly Ayotte (NH), Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Senator Ed Markey (MA). Each had the opportunity to question Mr. Rauch.

  • Senator Ayotte, emphasizing the issue of at-sea monitoring in the groundfish industry, opined that the value of fishery resources to coastal communities should be weighed equally with the value of preventing overfishing.
  • Senator Blumenthal, also concerned with the economic plight of local fishermen, focused on how shifting fish populations due to ocean warming have affected Connecticut-based fishermen. He emphasized the need for science-based fisheries management that includes input from local fishermen, particularly on setting quotas and reducing bycatch.
  • Senator Markey, the last to speak of the New England senators, also emphasized the use of science. He inquired about prioritizing certain fisheries for monitoring, utilizing technological advances to improve stock assessments, and addressing climate change in the ocean.

In his responses, Mr. Rauch identified the tools in place, through the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, that have allowed NOAA to take certain steps in addressing some of these concerns. For example, NOAA has invested $3 million in Northeast climate science studies. He also helped the Senators understand specific areas where the law could be improved to address some of their concerns.

We agree that the fisheries management process in New England can be improved. Particularly in the face of climate change, the regional fishery management councils and NOAA must emphasize ecosystem-based fisheries management including interactions between species and the importance of habitat. Also, the best available science must drive management decisions, even if that means sacrifices now in order to preserve the long-term health of our fisheries and ocean ecosystem.

In the balance between conservation and economic growth, there will always be room for improvement – but it is still important to acknowledge and celebrate the progress that our nation’s fisheries as a whole have made, as a direct result of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Moving forward – here in New England and around the country – we can only hope for the fishing industry, scientists, and policy-makers to continue to work together to promote sustainable, healthy, and profitable U.S. fisheries.

For those interested, a video of the hearing and a record of the written statements can be found here.


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