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Law governing federal fisheries getting public comment as it gets updated

Posted: December 24, 2013 - 2:23pm

Re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, governing federal fisheries, is slowly making its way through the system, with House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Doc Hastings, R-Wash., releasing a draft copy for public perusal and comment.

Congress passed the original Magnuson Act in 1976. It was originally adopted to extend control of U.S. waters to 200 nautical miles in the ocean, to phase out foreign fishing activities within this zone, to prevent overfishing, especially by foreign fleets, to allow over-fished stocks to recover and to conserve and manage fishery resources.

It was last updated in 2006, and was scheduled to have been re-authorized by Sept. 30 of this year.

“The purpose of this draft proposal is to gather public input and to see how to best improve and modernize this important law governing fisheries,” Hastings said. “This proposal would give regional fishery managers increased flexibility to deal with the complexity of fishery issues and provide economic stability and certainty to fishermen and fishery dependent communities. It also would improve data collection and increase transparency so that management decisions are based on sound science and all who are impacted by this law can have an active role in the process.” 

The draft proposal maintains the general protections of the MSA, but would make the following changes: provide flexibility for fishery managers when rebuilding depleted fisheries; provide flexibility for fishery managers when setting annual catch levels; provide more transparency for fishermen and others in both science and management; provide more predictability and stability for fishermen and fishery-dependent communities; allow fishery managers to take the economic impact of their decisions into account when setting harvest levels and developing rebuilding plans; allow fishery managers to take environmental conditions into account when establishing harvest levels and developing rebuilding plans; allow fishermen in regions where catch share programs have been controversial to have a say in whether a new catch share program will be implemented and to be provided better information when considering such a program; provide a schedule for obtaining better fishery dependent and fishery independent data especially for data poor fisheries and provide greater protection for confidential information submitted to regulatory agencies; and authorize appropriations for an additional five fiscal years at current funding level.

The Natural Resources Committee has held eight hearings in the past three years to gather information about what changes would be beneficial.

The cost of observers was high on the list of complaints from Alaska fishermen who attended at least one of the hearings.

A copy of the draft proposal can be found at http://naturalresources.house.gov/magnusonstevens/, and comments can be sent to MagnusonStevens@mail.house.gov.

The 2014 Kodiak salmon season is expected to return to below average territory after a near record-setting season in 2013.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates a 2014 harvest of 1.3 million sockeye salmon and 14.6 million pink salmon next year, compared to 2.6 million sockeye and 28.2 million pinks in 2013.

The anticipated sockeye harvest is well below the 10-year average of 2.4 million fish, and the pink salmon numbers also fall well below that average of 23.7 million fish.

The big numbers of returning fish in 2013 also brought out a few more fishermen, with 45 percent of the 379 available purse seine permits being fished, compared to the 10-year average of 39 percent;10 percent of the 31 available beach seine permits, compared to the average of 2 percent; and 81 percent of the 188 available setnet permits, compared to the average of 80 percent.

The estimated ex-vessel value of the 2013 fishery was approximately $59.3 million, which is the highest since 1995. This also is well above the previous 10-year ex-vessel value of $28.3 million.

Purse seine fishermen accounted for 94.1 percent of the total harvest and their earnings averaged $304,105 per fished permit. Set gillnet fishermen accounted for 5.8 percent of the total harvest and their earnings averaged $55,671 per permit fished, the second highest since 1999. Beach seine fishermen harvested 0.1 percent of the total catch and averaged $24,550 per permit fished. 

The Partnership for Public Service released its latest report on federal worker satisfaction and, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the trends are not pretty, according to a story in the Washington Post.

For the fourth straight year, worker satisfaction dropped markedly. Since 2009, when it received a satisfaction score of 69.8 out of 100 and was considered one of the best places to work in government, its rating has plummeted more than 10 points to a middling 58.3. 

In sub-categories that address satisfaction in leadership, management, pay, teamwork, training, work-life balance, support for diversity and other variables, the declines in satisfaction have been more or less evenly spread.

The downturn in satisfaction has coincided with a change in political leadership. The 2008 to 2009 period marked the transition from Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher — who served through much of the Bush Administration (2001-2008) — to Jane Lubchenco, Obama’s selection to run the agency (starting in 2009).

Lubchenco departed NOAA earlier this year and Kathryn Sullivan has served as the acting administrator since. 

NASA was ranked the top place to work in the Federal government for a second straight year. 

Independent of the Partnership for Public Service report, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has introduced a bill that would move NOAA from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Interior.

“The bill will realize significant savings from the merger or elimination of duplicative programs and administrative and support offices,” a fact sheet on the bill states. “It will combine and coordinate offices with a similar mission.” 

The proposed re-organization would simultaneously consolidate the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce into one agency called the Department of Commerce and the Workforce.

The White House had also proposed NOAA be moved to Interior in January 2012.

“The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater,” Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.


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