Vote on climate-focused fisheries overhaul goes into overtime

The House Natural Resources Committee delayed final action to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

September 22, 2022

The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday moved toward approving an overhaul of the nation’s premier fishing law but ultimately decided it needed more time to do so, postponing a final vote.

The panel planned to advance H.R. 4690, the “Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act,” a bill that would require NOAA to create plans for “climate ready fisheries” to manage the nation’s shifting stocks.

But after spending hours debating a series of controversial amendments — on issues including red snapper quotas, bycatch rules and catch shares — the committee decided to finish its work on another date yet to be determined. The panel also delayed votes on most of the amendments.

On another matter, the committee voted to reject Republican resolutions of inquiry to demand documents from the Interior and Agriculture departments on a host of issues, including the Biden administration’s offshore oil and gas leasing program, mineral withdrawal policies on Minnesota's Superior National Forest and operations of Interior’s ethics office (E&E Daily, Sept. 16).

If approved, the fisheries bill would mark the first time that climate change was included in the landmark Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law that sets rules for fishing in all federal waters (Greenwire, July 26, 2021).

“This has been a long time coming,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the bill’s chief sponsor and the chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife.

The issue of climate change was not even on the radar for lawmakers in 1976 when Congress passed the law. And it did not get a mention when lawmakers last reauthorized the law in 2006.

Huffman had also delayed a markup on his proposed overhaul earlier this year in response to the death of Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, the former House dean who died in March (E&E Daily, April 5).

During its long markup, Democrats and Republicans alike praised Young’s long work on fishery issues, with Huffman saying his passing had caused a “tremendous absence” on the committee.

Young’s successor, Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, backed the bill, after declaring it one of her top priorities when she was sworn in last week. She also lauded Young’s work, saying he had served as her representative “my entire life.”

Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) during the Natural Resources Committee markup Wednesday. | Francis Chung/E&E News

Peltola, the first Alaska Native elected to Congress, told her colleagues that she had started fishing in her home state at the age of 6 but had watched salmon runs decline steeply in recent years.

“We’ve seen what needs fixing, what can be made better and how,” she said. “Regardless of our political battles, the climate and the oceans are changing.”

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

Under the 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 bill 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."

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the committee chair, said the Magnuson-Stevens law needed “timely updates,” particularly by addressing the effects of a changing climate and shifting fish stocks.

But overall, he said, the law had served the nation well by helping fight rampant overfishing.

“The MSA turned things around,” Grijalva said.

Many Republicans dismissed the bill and the debate as a partisan exercise, predicting the legislation would never get signed into law by the president.

“It’s not going to see the light of day in the Senate,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.).

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), the committee’s ranking member, called the legislation “blatantly partisan” and said it had been rushed by Democrats after receiving only one congressional hearing.

Huffman called the criticism “laughably false,” noting that he had conducted a nationwide listening tour to gather input on fishery issues from across the United States before introducing the bill last year.

By:  Rob Hotakainen
Source: E&E Daily