The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee heard more than three hours of testimony Thursday on eight bills to reform federal fishery laws, with the chairman asserting his intention to modify the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a move sought by fishing industry leaders throughout the East and Gulf Coasts.
The plethora of bills to amend Magnuson — it does not require reauthorization for another five years — and a brief exchange between a Democratic member of the committee from New Jersey and the Republican chairman from Washington State demonstrated a shift toward action, at least in the House.
"We should schedule a vote," said Congressman Frank Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat who has been at the vanguard of the movement to instill some statutory language in Magnuson that allows flexibility in rebuilding time lines. "I hope we can mark up these bills," he added.
"My intentions are to deal with these bills," was the response from Doc Hastings, the chairman.
The bills — including legislation by Reps. Barney Frank and William Keating, Massachusetts Democrats, Pallone and Republicans Walter Jones of North Carolina, Jon Runyon of New Jersey, Rob Wittman of Virginia — all "provide fertile ground for moving forward," noted Rick Marks, a fishery scientist, industry lobbyist and former member of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
Marks described the shared concern of flexibility advocates — that the 2006 reauthorization brought the nation "the Alaska model," where the scale of the industry produces enough revenue to support stock surveys, acute technological monitoring, and scientifically based findings allowing confident calibrations of conservation and fishery yields.
The approach is "a good idea," Marks testified, "provided the scientific capabilities of the Alaska region also applied.
"We all know they don't," he continued. "Instead, we ended up with a rigid implementation model resulting in precautionary buffers and lower yields at the expense of our industry and our nation."
That problem was the rallying cry for the February 2010 outdoor gathering of up to 5,000 fishermen at the U.S. Capitol, which was organized by the New Jersey based Recreational Fishing Alliance.
The pending bills and Thursday's hearing were seen as among the first tangible results from the 2010 rally — and they come with plans already afoot for a second "United We Fish" rally sometime next spring.
In his opening remarks Thursday, Hastings provided a similar analysis to Marks'.