A View from the Hill: November 2023

U.S. Capitol

The 118th Congress has been an eventful one so far, that’s for sure. We’ve seen some movement on fisheries and oceans issues this year, and expect more to come. But we can’t overlook the unprecedented action the House of Representatives recently took, making history for that chamber, and one we’ll all be talking about for years.

For the first time in American history, the House of Representatives removed a Speaker from their position when, on October 3rd, the chamber voted to oust Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). The final vote was 216-210. That set off three weeks of historical chaos while the Republican caucus searched for a new leader. We saw several candidates rise and fall, but after 22 days, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) emerged on October 25th as the new Speaker by winning all 220 Republican votes.

With a new Speaker in place, the House moved quickly to restart floor consideration of individual appropriation bills. The Republican House will have to work with the Democratic-led Senate to avoid a government shutdown, and fast, with the current continuing resolution (CR) expiring on November 17th.

But before all that drama unfolded, we had seen a decent amount of fisheries and oceans-related work occur since August recess. Let’s start with the Biden Administration.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce have been pretty active as of late, announcing several funding opportunities. We saw notable climate action when the agency announced plans to use $20 million in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding for NOAA to work with the regional fishery management councils to tackle climate change impacts. Councils will be awarded funds to develop and advance climate-related fisheries management efforts. Learn more here.

NOAA also announced plans recently to use $20 million in IRA funding for the agency to better understand, adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of climate change on red snapper and other reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico. This funding is expected to help address scientific and management uncertainties for dozens of species in the region. Learn more here.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) also recently announced $2.3 million in available funding for innovative bycatch reduction solutions. The agency is seeking proposals focused on innovative technological solutions to fishery bycatch issues through collaborative research and partnerships. The deadline for pre-proposals is December 15, 2023.

Full proposals are due March 20, 2024. Read more here.

And that was just in October. Back in September, the White House issued the Restoring Healthy and Abundant Salmon, Steelhead, and Other Native Fish Populations in the Columbia River Basin memorandum. The memo directs all applicable federal agencies to, “utilize their authorities and available resources to advance,” a policy to, “operate, manage, and regulate the Columbia River System (CRS) to adequately protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife affected by the Federal dams in the Basin in a manner that provides equitable treatment for fish and wildlife with the other purposes for which the Federal dams are managed and operated.” More details can be found here.

Also in September, NOAA Fisheries released an updated National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy and multi-year national and regional implementation plans. In the updated policy, NOAA identifies actionable commitments to advance policy goals and updates the 2015 policy. Learn more here.

The agency also issued a Proposed Rule to Revise the Guidelines for National Standards 4, 8, or 9 earlier this year. Public comments were due by September 12, and the Network submitted our own. To remind yourself of the background context, you can find the advance notice proposed rulemaking (ANPR) here.

NOAA Fisheries also announced a large-scale study on its Recreational Fishing Effort Survey, which will be implemented in 2024. This announcement follows the preliminary results of a pilot study that suggests the order of the questions in the survey may lead to overestimation of fishing effort. Read the key findings of the pilot study here.

Over on Capitol Hill, the House Natural Resources Committee held two notable hearings since August recess.

Toward the end of October, the Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries hosted a legislative hearing considering a number of ocean related bills, which you can find here. And just over a month earlier, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held an oversight hearing titled, “Examining Barriers to Access in Federal Waters: A Closer Look at the Marine Sanctuary and Monument System.” You can rewatch the hearing here.

And finally, we saw one bill introduced that caught our attention. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Introduced S.Res.419, a resolution designating October 23, 2023, as “National Marine Sanctuary Day.” Cosponsors include Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-GA), Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

With the end of the first session of the 118th Congress approaching quickly, we expect the attention of both the House and the Senate to be squarely focused on a short list of big items, starting with FY24 appropriations. Both chambers have moved a handful of bills each, but the November 17th expiration of the current CR is looming and a high-stakes political maneuvering has already begun. We expect Congress to finish the job and avoid a government shutdown, leaving the month of December for the other big-ticket items, such as a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). But only time will tell!

About Rob Vandermark

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

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