By Liz Ruskin, APRN – February 2014
The Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 1976 law that governs fishing in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and other federal waters, is up for reauthorization in Congress. In past revisions, sectors of the Alaska industry squared off against each other. This time, the industry is mostly united in praising the law. But some of Alaska’s non-commercial fishermen say their needs aren’t getting enough attention.
Magnuson-Stevens is the law that extended U.S. jurisdiction 200 miles off the nation’s shore and pushed out foreign fishing fleets. It, and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council it created, are said to have ended the dangerous “race for fish. “ Under council management, North Pacific fish and crab stocks have recovered from depletion. The law is still controversial on the East Coast, but a parade of Alaska industry stakeholders told a U.S. Senate hearing today the Magnuson-Stevens Act is pretty good the way it is.
Here’s Julianne Curry of United Fishermen of Alaska: ”In general, MSA is working well in the North Pacific and we don’t want to see a radical overhaul of the act.”
John Plesha of Trident Seafoods: “The Magnuson Stevens Act has been incredibly successful.”
Lori Swanson of Groundfish Forum: “The result is a true success story for both the MSA and the Council process.”
And North Pacific Council Director Chris Oliver: “Major changes are frankly not necessary at this time.”
Other industry reps filled the back of the hearing room. Those from the At-Sea Processors Association and United Catcher Boats, said they’re mostly watching Congress to fend off revisions. The director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers said he’d be happy if Congress did nothing but change the expiration date. But some witnesses at the hearing did suggest changes. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association says consolidation has squeezed small fishing operators out. Director Linda Behnken says they’re also pressing for video monitoring in place of human observers to police the catch on smaller boats.
“Placing observers on these small vessels presents problems,” she says. “Living and deck space is cramped at best. Fishing families spend months living in a space the size of a station wagon.”
Sport and subsistence fishermen say the fishing law doesn’t give them due consideration. The accidental catch of chinook salmon in the pollock fishery is of particular concern to tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and in Interior Alaska. The pollock industry says it has vastly reduced bycatch, to roughly half the 60,000 salmon they’re allowed. But chinook returns to the rivers have been devastatingly low in recent years. It’s decimated subsistence use, so Natasha Singh, of Tanana Chiefs Conference, says bycatch of 30,000 fish is troubling.
“When our village residents hear those numbers, they’re just astonished because some of our people who have depended on these king salmon to feed them throughout the river aren’t even able to take one fish today,” she says.
TCC and the Association of Village Council Presidents are asking for a dedicated tribal seat on the North Pacific council, which hasn’t met with support among the industry. The Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization process is continuing in both the Senate and the House. No official bill is on file yet.