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Fishery management improvement legislation left on the dock(et)

When Congress returns from its August recess after Labor Day, the many items it will have to deal with include reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act. The House Natural Resources Committee has approved the Strengthening Fishing Communities & Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 4742). But the committee has not yet officially reported the bill, which it needs to do before the House can vote on it.

The bill would allow more flexibility in rebuilding depleted fish stocks. Fishery management plans, for instance, could use methods including harvest control and setting fishery mortality limit goals. And when setting annual catch rate limits, fishery management councils could add criteria for determining changes in the ecosystem and effects on fishing communities. The bill would also replace the law's references to “overfished” with “depleted.”

The bill would put new requirements on scientific and statistical committees to allow for public input. Whenever “practicable,” councils would have to broadcast via webinar or similar means their meetings. The bill would also start a Catch Share Referendum Pilot Program in the New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico councils. The program would require these councils to take a referendum of permit holders before setting catch share limits. A majority would have to vote in favor.

The bill would also require new federal-state partnerships to gather data regarding recreational fishing. A new state grant program would help states collect the info. The National Research Council would evaluate the program.

The bill would also require the federal government to set up within a year rules for electronic monitoring, distinguishing between monitoring for compliance and monitoring for data collection. New regulations could replace some on-board observers with electronic monitors. Councils would have to come up with lists of species with a lack of adequate data.

The legislation would last through FY 18.