Almost 40 years ago, without regard for the conservation of our fisheries or the needs of the Alaskan people, foreign fishing fleets dominated the waters off Alaska’s shores and took anything and everything in their reach. Ask anyone familiar with the times, deck lights of foreign vessels – dozens if not more – could be seen just miles off the coast of Kodiak and other coastal communities. Recognizing the need for change, countless Alaskan fishermen came to Congress to ask for help in pushing the foreign fleets out.
Senator Ted Stevens and I knew that Alaska’s and America’s interests needed protection and we immediately began working to spearhead commonsense fisheries reforms through Congress. Reforms weren’t easy, but partnerships and friendships were formed – with Representatives and Senators across state and party lines – to convince our colleagues it was the right thing to do.
After years of work, the foundation of our domestic fishing fleet was born, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Along with the creation of the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone that pushed foreign fleets further from our shores, the MSA “Americanized” our fisheries and created wealth and certainty for our State and fishermen.
Alaska is now home to the strongest, most sustainable fisheries in the world. All across the North Pacific, from Dutch Harbor to Ketchikan, our fishermen and coastal communities have thrived under the policies developed in the MSA. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska’s seafood industry now contributes nearly 80,000 jobs to our local economies; is home to 11 of the nation’s top 20 most valuable commercial fishing ports; and harvests more than 60% of the nation’s seafood.
As Alaska’s fisheries continue to flourish, with healthy communities and jobs at sea and on shore, there ultimately comes a time when our laws – even those that are working well – must be reviewed and updated. Just as our fishermen and fisheries must adjust to new dynamic challenges, our laws must also be reviewed to keep pace with changes in our industry and ensure they are being implemented as intended by Congress.
After more than two years of reviewing the MSA, I have been asked by the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) to once again put my fisheries experience to work by leading the charge on reauthorizing this important legislation.
In an effort to ensure a proper balance between the biological needs of our fish stocks and the economic needs of our fishermen and coastal communities, I have introduced legislation with a number of regional cosponsors to reauthorize and strengthen the MSA. H.R. 1335, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, provides a number of modest but necessary reforms, including efforts to: provide fisheries managers with increased flexibility and transparency; allow for improved data collection through the use of electronic monitoring; increase accountability for our federal agencies; and create predictability and certainty for coastal communities that depend on stable fishing.
In many ways, the MSA continues to support Alaska fishermen and protect our fishery resource as envisioned. But as I’ve learned in Congress, our laws are not written in stone and we must constantly review them, listen to our constituents and make changes when necessary. As we move forward on this important legislation and take up separate efforts to address Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing by foreign vessels, I look forward to once again hearing from the countless Alaskans and Americans who helped us develop these positive reforms. While I will miss teaming up with Senator Stevens again during this process, as we did for the first time in 1976 and for the last time in 2006, I will remember him fondly as we work to update the law bearing his name.