1. Alaska Hearing on the MSA Reauthorization

Last week, Sen. Sullivan (R-Alaska) hosted a meeting in Soldotna to discuss the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization with prominent Alaskans. The MSA initially passed in 1976 to enhance the sustainability of U.S. marine fisheries. It governs both commercial and recreational fisheries and Congress typically updates it every ten years; the last update happened in 2007.

Reed Morisky, a fishing guide and the sport fishing representative on the Board of Fish, spoke alongside ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten, North Pacific Fishery Management Council Chairman Dan Hull, and eleven other business, conservation, and fishery representatives. A common thread between this meeting and earlier MSA hearings is the need for the federal government to invest additional funds and personnel towards collecting accurate fishery data. Without accurate data, there is an annual risk of either overly conservative management or overfishing.

In addition to data needs, Morisky and other sportfishing panelists emphasized the importance of recognizing recreational fishing as distinct from commercial fishing in the MSA’s reauthorization process. Recreational fishing, while sharing conservation goals with the commercial fisheries, is typically perceived as taking a backseat to commercial issues when it comes to budget and catch allocations, as well as management. Without adequate resources, management decisions are made with slim analyses using commercial data. With only commercial data available, managers cannot determine the actual economic impacts of the sport fleet, the health of local fisheries, or the impact of different recreational regulations. Through the MSA reauthorization process, SEAGO is and will work with sportfishing representatives like Reed Morisky and our Congressional Delegation to ensure that these concerns are heard.

To see individual testimony from panelists or watch the hearing yourself, click HERE. Please note that this link has been updated today to correct panelist information and repair audio/visual problems. Due to recording complications, audio begins after eight minutes. Mr. Morisky’s testimony begins at 13:09 of the video clip.

For a synopsis of the meeting from fisheries reporter Elizabeth Earl, click HERE.

2. Early August Meetings on the MSA Reauthorization

Senate Hearing

Sen. Sullivan led a MSA reauthorization meeting in early August where he heard testimony from Chris Oliver, an Alaskan who led our North Pacific Fishery Management Council until his recent hire as the Assistant Administrator of NOAA Fisheries. Mr. Oliver and Dr. John Quinn from the Northeast Council responded to various questions and concerns from the Senators regarding how the MSA operates across the country.

As Mr. Oliver pointed out, and Mr. Morisky emphasized last week, recreational fisheries are managed under catch limits and accountability measures designed for the commercial fleets. According to Mr. Oliver, to successfully manage recreational fisheries, we need to expand our toolbox and increase flexibility in management. Right now, the recreational fishery lacks comprehensive stock assessments and the ability to know what’s going on in real time. If we can get better information today about fish coming out of the water, we absolutely need to do that. These two very different fisheries cannot keep relying on information collection designed for the commercial fleet.

Sen. Sullivan later quoted Oliver, saying that “[fisheries management is] often a strained balancing act that forces tough choices between competing interests.”

To watch the hearing, click HERE.

House Hearing

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) also held a meeting regarding the successes and challenges of the MSA, with four industry members invited to answer questions for the committee. There was general agreement that the MSA is successful, but can be improved. This success is attributed to MSA requirements for rebuilding and sustaining fishery stocks, which have been successfully implemented since Congress enacted the MSA. The panel also addressed a need for flexibility, as did the Senate meeting above, though the focus here was on flexibility for rebuilding stocks and avoiding duplicative requirements of other Acts, such as the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. Panelists did not all agree on the need for flexibility, though an overarching agreement lay in the need for more data to make management decisions.

3. NOAA Budget

The National Oceanic and Administrative Agency (NOAA) is the parent agency for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Ocean Service (NOS), and Ocean and Atmospheric Research (OAR). These divisions are vital to fisheries management, ocean research, weather research, and research and conservation grant programs, to name a few. Funding for NOAA Fisheries starts with the President’s Proposed Budget, which goes to the House of Representatives. After the House comes up with its own budget proposal, it goes to the Senate for consideration. If there is disagreement between the budgets, the proposals go to a joint conference committee to find a compromise budget. The Senate is finishing its hearings this summer and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is an important voice in this process.

The proposed cuts to NOAA were originally severe, and the House responded to public outcries at the loss of research funding by adding back in portions of the proposed cuts. The Senate went a step further and reinstated most funding at the same level as last year, slightly cutting some programs and increasing the budgets for a few. NMFS’s programs were among those the Senate proposed to increase, as well as the Sea Grant program within OAR. Sen. Murkowski spoke to the importance of NOAA and its work when she helped make these changes. Murkowski specifically mentioned the importance of the Sea Grant program back in March, writing a letter to the Office of Management and Budget regarding the tens of thousands of jobs, students, and businesses Sea Grant supports annually.

The budget will likely go straight to the conference committee to find a compromise budget.  SEAGO is following the NOAA budget so you don’t have to, but we encourage you to participate!

If this issue is important to you, your business, and your community, we suggest 1) making a phone call, 2) talking about it on social media, 3) attending a Town Hall, 4) writing to your local paper, or 5) posting on your blog page to let your Senators and Representative(s) know why NOAA is important to you. Use #TheMoreYouNOAA to join the nation in protecting our fisheries managers.

4. Mat-Su Fish & Wildlife Commission

Guides, lodge owners, and anglers showed up alongside the Borough Mayor to a Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting last Tuesday with Commissioner Sam Cotton and other top ADFG officials. Speakers expressed significant concerns with this summer’s commercial openings in light of the low number returning to the area rivers. Officials responded that comments should be directed to the Board of Fish, and that the 20-30 anglers who expressed these concerns at the BOF meeting in March were somehow insignificant to decision making. Howard Delo, a retired ADFG biologist and former BOF member, questioned the weight given to commercial interests in discussing summer management.

Sitting quietly in the audience were members of the Mat-Su Legislative delegation. Though the Mat-Su Fish & Wildlife Commission advises the local Assembly and BOF, the Legislature confirms BOF members, establishes BOF authority, and can pass legislation affecting fisheries. Perhaps it’s time to find your legislators and let them know how important sport fishing is to you during their downtime?

5. Kodiak Community Forum

Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Yakutat/Kodiak/Cordova) convened a community forum in Kodiak last week with Speaker of the House Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham), Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), and other members of the Legislature to discuss, among other things, a bill proposed to protect salmon streams from potentially harmful nearby development. The bill, H.B. 199, would also update other provisions of ADFG’s governing statutes, statutes which the Legislature has not revised for fifty years, and increase public comment opportunities for development projects. Additional public meetings are scheduled around the State to discuss the bill before the House Fisheries Committee reconvenes in January.

SEAGO submitted a Letter of Support when Rep. Stutes initially proposed this Legislation, read the HB199 SEAGO Letter of Support.  Find your legislators if you want to weigh in on this or other fisheries issues the Legislature will address this session.