MSA: Getting Its Long-Overdue Conversation

Bob Rees gets an albie

Photo: Bob Rees gets an albie

You’ve certainly heard me talk long and hard about the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) over the months, but it has been getting some much needed attention at the national level lately.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, convened a hearing titled “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: NOAA and Council Perspectives” on August 1. This hearing was the first in a series to examine the state of our nation’s fishery laws and guide the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Let’s face it; the vast majority of anglers in our region don’t fish the saltwater. And make no mistake, it’s still a vital part of our coastal and recreational economy, but weather and equipment limitations make this game a rich-man’s sport (thank God for tax write-offs).

That certainly doesn’t mean the vast majority of anglers shouldn’t pay attention to what’s happening during the Alaska field hearing later this month or future hearings in Washington, DC when it comes to how our lawmakers plan on shaping the future of our fisheries. Just look at the shenanigans happening with red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be writing more about this in the future.

Just like the federal government, MSA has its reach. It governs all federal waters out to our Exclusive Economic Zone. That’s 200 nautical miles off of the U.S. mainland. That’s a lot of water to “govern.”

Many of the freshwater species that anglers pursue in Oregon – salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, herring, anchovies, smelt and even crab – have spent a significant amount of time in saltwater. Because of this, it’s important to realize the connection every angler has to the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Congress is likely to take up many components of MSA over the course of reauthorization. For most provisions in the law, fishermen and conservationists alike are likely to say, “Don’t You Go Changin'” the law.

But as we’ve seen over the course of time, the progression of industry can often interfere with the progression of legacy. Even decades after the stock crashes of the early 90’s, you still don’t see many dads and moms teaching their sons and daughters the ways of the sea. Most would say the industry is tanking, encouraging their children to go to college and take up another career. Only some of the most recent successes with rebuilding Bocaccio rockfish and darkblotched rockfish species – ahead of schedule, mind you – suggest having a different conversation with our younger generation of fishermen.

Here are some components of the Magnuson-Stevens Act that affect us “locals.”

  • Reliable data-gathering strategies – Believe it or not, not all coastal states have accurate data-gathering methods in place. As we all know, data gathering costs dollars, and not every state has the funds to expend on this exercise. I don’t think I need to call out the dangers of too little data; it leads to a violation of one of the key objectives of MSA: preventing overfishing.
  • Reducing bycatch – A no-brainer for us on the west coast, and nationwide actually. Bycatch affects the health of ecosystems and in some cases affects the quota of other targeted fisheries. Excluder devices are helping to reduce bycatch of some species, but more needs to be done to curb this problem.
  • Protecting our forage fish stocks – While somewhat of a new concept, proactively protecting forage prey is another no-brainer. You wonder why it takes a crisis to protect what is the foundation of the food web. NOAA recently took some proactive steps to protect several different species of forage fish, but it may be a while before we see the fruits of this initiative. With herring, anchovies and sardines in a downward trend, maybe we should have thought about this sooner?

These initiatives, of course, hit on other major objectives of MSA, such as increasing long-term social and economic benefits and ensuring a safe and sustainable supply of seafood. These are just a few of the justifications for including strong conservation and science-based measures with Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization.

I know August is the month when we all want to go fishing, but let’s make sure we get our seat at the table before any shad hits the fan. Reach out to your Congressional senators and representatives to let them know these issues are important to you. Your voice is needed.

About Bob Rees

Bob Rees is a professional fishing guide and executive director of the Association of NW Steelheaders.

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