U.S. Senator Mark Begich, on Thursday, chaired a hearing on the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), welcoming several top Alaska representatives to testify on issues important to Alaska fishermen and the fish industry.
“Alaska is the standard bearer around the world for managing fisheries,” said Begich, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere Fishing and the Coast Guard. “The MSA has worked well for Alaska fishermen for years now and is responsible for creating our world class sustainable fisheries.”
The Alaska Pollock fishery is the largest by volume in the nation, and the Alaska salmon fishery in Bristol Bay is the largest salmon fishery in the world. Commercial fishing is the largest private-sector employer in Alaska, with nearly $2 billion in landings supporting more than 70,000 jobs. Nearly 300,000 recreational anglers spend more than $400 million per year in their pursuit of halibut, salmon and other sport fish.
“I’ve heard from hundreds of Alaska fishermen on changes they would like to see to this bill and I’m working to make sure that all voices are heard in the process,” said Begich. “Managing all of these fish and all of their uses is never easy, but we put the resource first, follow the science, and try and keep politics out of it as much as possible.”
Witnesses on today’s panel included NOAA Regional Administrator for Alaska Dr. Jim Balsiger, Julianne Curry of the United Fishermen of Alaska, Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Chris Oliver of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Tim Andrew of the Association of Village Council Presidents, and Ricky Gease of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
While generally supporting management under MSA, witnesses raised a number of issues that need to be considered during reauthorization: a stronger voice for tribal subsistence users; better incorporation of recreational fisheries affected under the law; flexibility in rebuilding fish stocks, especially data-poor species: support for robust funding of stock assessments, and incorporation of ecosystem factors in management plans.
While not part of MSA, Begich took the opportunity to question the panel of fishermen on the confusing patchwork of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules governing ballast water discharges. Begich stated his intent to introduce legislation to create uniform and tougher national standards but exempt fishing vessels and other small boats that are generally considered not part of the problem.
The “vessel discharge” legislation will streamline requirements for ships porting regularly in different locations, cutting through red tape and the confusing jumble of state and federal requirements.
“What’s clear is that there are places we can streamline some of these more confusing regulations – especially in the case of vessel discharge – for fishermen and other small boat users. I plan on introducing legislation in the coming weeks to cut through some of this red tape.”
Today’s hearing is the fourth Begich has chaired in a series of hearings on regional perspectives regarding the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Today’s panel examined ongoing challenges with sustainable fisheries management in the North Pacific and progress made since its last reauthorization in 2007.