Don Young's death will delay fisheries law overhaul

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said legislation to reauthorize the 1976 law will be put on hold until Alaskans elect a new member of Congress.

April 05, 2022

The death of Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young will delay consideration of a long-awaited overhaul of the nation’s premier fishing law.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, said his bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a 1976 law, will be put on hold until Alaskans elect a replacement for Young, who died on March 18 at the age of 88.

“Although we often differed politically, we were always able to have productive conversations when it came to fisheries management, and he was a brilliant negotiator for this landmark bill,” Huffman said in a statement.

Calling Young’s death “a tremendous loss for Alaska, the country and all of us who had the honor of working with him,” Huffman said he wanted to wait until a successor is elected this summer to “ensure the voices of the Alaskan people are represented” before the bill moves through the House.

“I am grateful for the progress Rep. Young and I accomplished together as we neared the finish line with this bill, and I look forward to finalizing it with whomever takes the torch from the venerable Don Young,” Huffman said.

Huffman has been working on his proposed reauthorization for the past three years.

After conducting a two-year “listening tour” to collect ideas on possible changes, Huffman in July introduced H.R. 4690, the “Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act” (Greenwire, July 26).

In November, the panel heard testimony on the legislation, along with a separate bill sponsored by Young, H.R. 59, the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.” Young argued that his bill would better improve the law by giving fishermen and fishery managers more flexibility and stability (E&E Daily, Nov. 15, 2021).

If approved, Huffman’s bill would require NOAA to create plans for “climate ready fisheries” to manage the nation’s shifting stocks. It would mark the first time that climate change received a mention in the federal fishing law, which Congress last reauthorized in 2006.

“When Magnuson was written and reauthorized, most, if not all, of the climate impacts that fishery managers are dealing with were not contemplated,” Huffman said in an earlier interview.

Fisheries have struggled for years to keep pace with the growing effects of climate change as fish have been moving to cooler waters (Greenwire, June 4, 2019).

Critics, including many Republican lawmakers and state officials, have called out NOAA for not adapting quickly enough, arguing that state and regional fishery officials could do a better job of deciding how many fish should be allowed to get caught.

Under Huffman’s bill, NOAA would be required to come up with “fishery management plans to incorporate climate change by promoting stock resilience, identifying data needs, examining the vulnerability of a fishery and its participants to climate change, and assessing the anticipated impacts of climate change.”

The legislation would also add climate change to the list of fisheries research priorities for NOAA and establish a program “to develop innovative tools and approaches to increase the adaptive capacity of fishery management to the impacts of climate change."

Alaska voters will choose a new member of Congress in a two-step process that will feature a vote-by-mail primary election on June 11, when four finalists will be chosen from a field of more than 50 candidates. The long list includes Sarah Palin, the state’s former GOP governor and the Republican nominee for vice president in 2008 (E&E Daily, April 4).

The top four candidates will then face off in a special general election set for Aug. 16.

Source: Politico Pro