A View from the Hill: March 2020

Cherry Blossoms at the U.S. Capitol

A lot has happened since our last View from the Hill in early November, not the least of which has been a presidential impeachment trial and an on-going global pandemic. But there’s also been news on the federal fisheries front, and here are several highlights.

In November, the Senate Commerce Committee held a full committee hearing and passed a few oceans-related bills. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-AK) “Save Our Seas 2.0 Act” (S.1982) would seek to remove plastic from oceans, among other things. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the Chairman of the full committee, carried his bill, the “Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act,” (S.2346) to streamline fisheries disaster declarations and declaration processes so relief funding can get to affected fisheries stakeholders more quickly. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was able to move his bill, the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” (S.2429), which reauthorizes the Coral Reef Conservation Act and creates a national Coral Reef Task Force.

In December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a package of ten bills that protect coastal communities impacted by climate change, which included Rep. Chellie Pingree’s (D-ME) “Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act” (H.R. 3596). The Network supports this bill because it addresses many of the shoreside infrastructure needs coastal communities face due to rising sea levels and climate change.

In January, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), chairman of the House Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water, Oceans & Wildlife, introduced a bill to streamline the process for applying and receiving fishery disaster relief for communities due to fishery closures and natural or man-made disasters. Rep. Huffman’s news release for the “Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations (Fishery FUNDD) Act” (H.R. 5548) can be read here, and the Network’s statement supporting H.R. 5548 is here. Chairman Huffman held a subcommittee hearing on this bill, as well as several others related to oceans and fisheries, including Rep. Joe Cunningham’s “Climate-Ready Fisheries Act of 2019” (H.R. 4679), another bill the Network supports.

Also in January, the House Natural Resources Committee held a full committee markup of two bills the Network has been working on – Rep. Don Young’s (R-AK) “Young Fisherman’s Development Act of 2019” (H.R. 1240) and Rep. Cunningham’s “Climate-Ready Fisheries Act of 2019” (H.R. 4679). Both passed the committee, Young’s bill unanimously by voice vote and Cunningham’s bill by a vote of 22-15. You can find more details here, and you can read the Network’s statement here.

In March, Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS) introduced H.R. 6191, a modified “Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture” (AQUAA) Act. The bill would establish national standards for sustainable offshore aquaculture and clarify a regulatory pathway for offshore aquaculture in the U.S. exclusive economic zone, from 12 miles offshore out to 200 miles offshore. You can read Peterson’s press release here and Palazzo’s here. The House Natural Resources Committee also held a full committee markup of several bills, including Rep. Garret Graves’ (R-LA) the “Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices (DESCEND) Act of 2019” (H.R.5126). The bill would require individuals fishing for Gulf reef fish to use certain descending devices, among other things. The bill passed the full committee by unanimous consent.

Rep. Huffman continued his nationwide listening tour on federal fisheries management designed to engage diverse perspectives, interests, and needs of individuals who have a stake in the management of federal oceans and fisheries resources. Here’s the list of regional listening sessions that have occurred since our last summary, along with Network’s statement following each:

  • Mid-Atlantic region: November 15 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Network’s statement)
  • Pacific/North Pacific region: November 22 in Seattle, WA in conjunction with the annual Pacific Marine Expo. Representatives Suzan Del Bene and Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Ed Case of Hawaii also participated. (Network’s statement)
  • Gulf region: January 30 in New Orleans, LA. Rep. Garret Graves joined the panel. (Network’s statement)
  • South Atlantic region: February 14 in Miami, FL. (Network’s statement)
  • Western Pacific region: February 21 in Honolulu, HI. Rep. Ed Case participated, and Chairman Huffman joined remotely. (Network’s statement)

Chairman Huffman recently announced that the fisheries listening tour will be postponed until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic. Huffman continues to receive comments through his online comment page, and we encourage everyone to submit comments related to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and federal fisheries policy.

We have a few things to report from the Commerce Department as well. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced in February the allocation of $65 million to communities in Alaska, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and the Yurok Tribe (California) that suffered fishery disasters between 2017 and 2019. You can read more about it here.

And, the Commerce Department had been heavily involved in an ongoing issue with overfishing menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay. On Nov. 20, Governor Ralph S. Northam of Virginia sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross asking him to uphold the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) non-compliance finding on Virginia’s menhaden fishery and to impose a moratorium on the harvest of menhaden. In December, NOAA affirmed the decision by the ASMFC that the Commonwealth of Virginia was out of compliance with the interstate fishery management plan for menhaden. Because Virginia had not implemented a fishing cap in the Chesapeake Bay, NOAA said it would impose a moratorium on menhaden fishing in the commonwealth starting June 17, 2020. In March, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill to transfer state management of menhaden from the Virginia General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, a move that will improve management of menhaden and prevented the federal fishing moratorium from taking place. Read the Network’s statement on Virginia’s new menhaden law here.

Last but certainly not least, the Senate passed the massive, $2 trillion third stimulus package last night. The measure provides significant relief in a variety of ways for small businesses throughout the country, including those in the fishing and seafood industries. In addition to providing additional funding to NOAA, the bill specifically includes $300 million, “to provide direct financial assistance to all manner of fishers, fishery participants, and communities that have been affected by coronavirus.” The bill’s legislative text specifies that this relief assistance will be available to “fishery participants,” defining that term as, “Tribes, persons, fishing communities, aquaculture businesses not otherwise eligible for assistance under part 1416 of title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations for losses related to COVID-19, processors, or other fishery-related businesses, who have incurred, as a direct or indirect result of the coronavirus pandemic.” These funds will be available through September 30, 2021 on a rolling basis.

The House will take up the measure tomorrow (Friday) morning and is expected to pass it by voice vote, and the President has indicated he will sign it as soon as they do.

Although the situation changes day-by-day, Congress is still at work, albeit remotely for many staffers, and plans to continue to move federal fisheries policy forward. The Network will be working with them every step of the way.

Stay safe everyone!

About Rob Vandermark

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

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