Today, United States Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand announced they have reintroduced legislation in the Senate that will bring much-needed flexibility to the federal rules now stifling Long Island’s once thriving commercial and recreational fishing industry. The bill is co-sponsored by North Carolina Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as it is presently written, requires any fishery designated by the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service as “overfished” be completely rebuilt within 10 years, a timeline Schumer and Gillibrand argued is arbitrary and forces regulators to implement overly strict fishing quotas. The lack of flexibility in the current regime prevents regulators from pursuing a more balanced approach that both allows the stocks to rebuild and considers the economic consequences to fishermen and fishing communities. The Senators’ bill would give some much needed flexibility to the ten-year timeline as a way to ease pressure on fishermen and their communities as fisheries continue to rebuild.
“Rebuilding our fishing stocks and keeping them healthy is absolutely critical, but we shouldn’t do it in a way that places an onerous, unnecessary burden on Long Island fishermen,” said Schumer. “By increasing flexibility and common sense in our fishing regulations, we can protect fishing stocks and at the same time help Long Island fishing communities prosper.”
“Right now our fishermen are dealing with a regulatory structure that relies on arbitrary timelines and bureaucrats hundreds of miles away from fishing communities and not science and fact,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This legislation is a step towards repairing a broken system.”
Schumer and Gillibrand have also strongly advocated for more funding for data collection to more accurately gauge fish stocks. In letters to the Department of Commerce and National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, as well as meetings with agency heads, they have called for greater emphasis on fisheries science and better funding for data collection. In cases where there is insufficient data on a fish stock, regulators must err on the side of caution and implement stricter catch limits.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management Act – reauthorized by Congress in 2006 — when a fishery is identified as overfished, a Regional Fishery Management Council has two years to implement a plan to end overfishing, and, with limited exceptions, to rebuild the stock within 10 years. The ten-year rebuilding requirement has three exceptions, based on the biology of the fish, environmental conditions, or an agreement between the U.S. and other nations. Other than those three situations, all overfished fisheries must achieve rebuilt status within 10 years. The problem is the ten-year deadline is arbitrary, may have no basis in science, and must be met without regard to the impact it will have on recreational and commercial fishermen, related industries, and the communities.
The Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act will provide the U.S. Secretary of Commerce authority to allow limited flexibility in the rebuilding mandates, but only if one of the following conditions apply:
· The biology of the stock of fish, other environmental conditions, or management measures under an international agreement, in which the United States participates dictates otherwise.
· The Secretary determines that the 10-year period should be extended because the cause of the fishery decline is outside the jurisdiction of the Council or the rebuilding program cannot be effective only by limiting fishing activities.
· The Secretary determines an extension would provide for the sustained participation of fishing communities or would minimize the economic impacts on such communities, provided that there is evidence that the stock of fish is on a positive rebuilding trend.
· The Secretary determines that the 10-year period should be extended for one or more stocks of fish of a multi-species fishery, provided that there is evidence that those stocks are on a positive rebuilding trend.
· The Secretary determines an expansion is necessary because of a substantial change to the biomass rebuilding target for the stock of fish concerned after the rebuilding plan has taken effect.
· The Secretary determines an expansion is necessary because the biomass rebuilding target exceeds the highest abundance of the stock of fish in the 25 year period preceding and there is evidence that the stock is on a positive rebuilding trend.
Schumer and Gillibrand said that the legislation will also add additional criteria to the biomass stock assessment mandated in the Magnuson Stevens Act to include commercial, residential and industrial development, agricultural activity in coastal areas and its impact on the marine environment and the relationship between predator and prey and other environmental and ecological changes to the marine conditions.