This bill would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act — the primary law governing how fisheries are managed and general fishing activities in federal waters — for five years through fiscal year 2022 with $397 million in annual funding. The original Magnuson-Stevens Act created eight Regional Fishery Management Councils, and this reauthorization aims to offer more resources and flexibility to Councils for managing their fisheries by reforming the process for designating and rebuilding depleted fisheries and setting annual catch limits.
Under current law, overfished and depleted fisheries are required to rebuild over a 10-year timeframe where no fishing takes place. This bill would replace that requirement with a timeframe that considers the time needed to restore fish populations, plus one mean generation — basically a fish's lifespan. The rebuilding period would be as short as practicable given the biology of the fishery.
Councils could phase-in rebuilding plans for dynamic fisheries over a three-year period to lessen the harm to fishing communities, and could consider environmental conditions and predator/prey relationships when developing rebuilding plans.
When setting Annual Catch Limits (ACLs), Councils would be directed to consider changes in the fishery’s ecosystem and the economic needs of the fishing communities — giving them flexibility without setting ACLs at a level allowing overfishing. Fish that are accidentally caught and are unlikely to be overfished would not need to have an ACL set for them, and fish with a life cycle shorter than 18 months would also not require an ACL as long as the mortality won’t impact the fishery. ACLs could be set for up to a three-year period.
The Secretary of the Interior would be required to develop a plan for conducting stock assessments for all stocks of fish under a fishery management plan that’d be updated every five years. If the secretary determines that a fish stock assessment is unnecessary for a certain stock of fish they’d have to publish an explanation in the Federal Register.
The Secretary of Commerce would be required to establish partnerships with states to develop state recreational fishing data. Grant awards to states would improve the implementation of state data programs, and would be prioritized based on the state’s ability to improve the quality and accuracy of the data collection programs. The Secretary would also enter into an agreement with the National Research Council to assess regional survey methods, and examine the limitations of NOAA’s current data collection programs.
The public would have more chances to give input into the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committees reporting process, and each Council would have to offer live audio or video of Council meetings.
Additionally, references in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to “overfished” fisheries would be changed to “depleted” fisheries to differentiate between fish that are depleted due to fishing from those that are depleted for other reasons.