A View From the Hill: March 2019

Capitol Hill

The 116th Congress began on January 3, 2019 with much anticipation that lawmakers would focus on fisheries. The 115th Congress worked on multiple bills – Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization bills, red snapper management bills, and the Modern Fish Act (MFA) in both chambers, for example. And the 115th was closed out by the passage of MFA, albeit significantly paired down with all of the controversial provisions stripped. So it was natural to think we’d hit the ground running fast when the 116th Congress began.

Shutdown slowdown

Work on fisheries, however, has slowed quite a bit. The nation’s longest government shutdown in history sucked a lot of air out of the room, and committees were slow to set rosters and get up and running. And, certainly on the House side, other priorities, like addressing climate change in a meaningful way for the first time in eight years, are taking precedence.

Nonetheless, fisheries and other marine issues are emerging now that we’re well into the new Congress, and committees and new members are finding their stride. The new Chairman of the House Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water, Oceans & Wildlife, Rep. Jared Huffman, held a hearing on oceans issues in early February. It set a good tone for conservation-oriented solutions to broad-scale ocean issues. And just recently, Huffman held a hearing on the effects of seismic testing on the endangered right whale. So ocean issues are making their way to the fore.

Looking in the crystal ball

The annual appropriations season has started and that will certainly take up a lot of time and energy. But fisheries policy in general, and Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization specifically, continues to be discussed informally among most stakeholders. When discussions formalize into legislation is anyone’s guess, but we do expect that to happen at some point this year. In the meantime, the Network will continue to advocate for its policy platform and provide analysis and insight into past MSA reauthorization bills. And we will be participating in the ongoing dialogue about how best to protect the conservation gains we’ve made over the last ten years while thoughtfully addressing legitimate fisheries management challenges, such as supporting working waterfronts and recreational data collection.

Stay tuned for more views from Capitol Hill in the weeks and months to come.

Capitol Hill photo via Wikipedia

About Rob Vandermark

Rob Vandermark is the executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network.

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