WASHINGTON — A bill amending the Magnuson-Stevens Act, sponsored by Alaska Rep. Don Young, passed the U.S. House on Wednesday.
The 1976 Magnuson-Stevens bill, authored in part by Young and named for Sens. Warren Magnuson of Washington and Ted Stevens of Alaska, was created to manage and sustain fish stocks in U.S. waters and keep foreign fishermen out. It created regional management councils that still manage local waters today.
Young's new bill eliminates limitations on the councils that were added later, which Young says the councils need to keep fisheries stocked and support fishing communities. The bill gives the management councils more control over no-fishing timeframes to rebuild fish stocks and aims to provide more input to outside groups.
The bill passed 222-193. It goes to the Senate next, where its path for passage is unclear.
But the bill is not without controversy: Some scientists and environmental groups say Young's revisions to the law would be damaging and result in overfishing. The Natural Resources Defense Council said the bill "threatens to unravel those four decades of progress."
"Some … say we're trying to destroy my act, which we're not," Young said in an interview in his office before the vote Thursday. "But I don't believe fixed numbers keep us on track as we gain knowledge or technology. Fixed numbers don't always work, especially when it comes to recovering species, identifying species that are on the decline quicker and actually hitting that main goal: a sustained yield and a local community's benefit," Young said.
"This is, I think, a decent bill. There's not as many changes as people think it is. You hear the environmental groups say, 'Oh, it's terrible.' They're full of it, as usual," Young said.
"We didn't write this bill. The industry, and the fishermen and, actually, the environmentalists wrote the bill," Young said.
But last year a group of scientists at universities and environmental organizations wrote members of Congress to urge opposition to the legislation.
Changes to the bill in 1996 and 2006 have added scientific backing to fishery management decisions that have rebuilt more than 40 domestic fish stocks since 2000, the scientists wrote.
Young's bill, H.R. 200, would "weaken the MSA's successful recovery of depleted fish populations by establishing broad loopholes that effectively eliminate the requirement for managers to set reasonable and scientifically based rebuilding timelines," they wrote. "Removal of these key management tools will hurt our fisheries, our oceans and the U.S. economy."
The scientists were also opposed to some provisions that Young ultimately agreed to remove from the bill, amending the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Antiquities Act.