AG Coakley Urges Congress to Do More for Fishing Families in Massachusetts
AG Supports Passage of Magnuson-Stevens Act with Amendments that Provide Significant Protection of Fishing Industries
BOSTON – In a letter sent Friday to the Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Attorney General Martha Coakley stated her strong support of the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) with a house bill that would add significant new protections for fishing industries throughout the country and in Massachusetts.
“Once part of Massachusetts’ historic past and of New England’s commercial and social fabric, Massachusetts and New England fisheries now face the stark reality of extinction,” AG Coakley states in the letter. “The reauthorization of the MSA and the changes proposed in H.R. 4742 are critical to the future and prosperity of the fishing industry and the marine ecosystem. Together, they provide a beacon of hope not only for Massachusetts’ fishing communities, but for all of the nation’s fisheries.”
The proposed amendments to the MSA as stated in H.R. 4742 provide significant new protections to fishing industries on three separate fronts.
If passed, the bill makes several improvements to stock assessment processes and promotes better and more reliable science, a major issue in the AG’s lawsuit filed against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in May 2013. The bill follows recommendations suggested in the recent National Academy of Sciences Report, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Fish Stock Rebuilding Plans in the United States.
For example, the house bill provides increased flexibility in stock assessments by replacing the current ten-year rebuilding requirement with a science-based flexible standard. Additionally, the bill allows for the consideration of naturally occurring factors such as environmental conditions and predator-prey relationships.
Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) Reform
The reauthorization of the MSA is also a chance to address the widespread and well documented mismanagement and misuse of the MSA’s AFF that is meant to aid fishermen if they are wrongfully fined for alleged violations.
Changes outlined in earlier house and senate bills filed in 2011, H.R. 2610 and Senate Bill 1304, provide for the reimbursement of legal fees to fishermen who successfully challenged an excessive fine. The legislation also definitively addresses assertions of unethical or improper behavior by existing Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) assigned to hear challenges by creating a rotating system.
Though H.R. 4742 does not directly address the reimbursement of legal fees, it does authorize the use of the AFF for data collection and authorizes the states to survey and assess data poor fisheries.
H.R. 4742 also seeks to increase transparency and collaboration between the public and industry stakeholders currently under the jurisdiction of the MSA, which is equally important to ensure effective and efficient management measures. To promote these elements, the bill creates a new fishery impact statement to assess the effects on the entire fishery of any new management plan, or any change to an existing plan.
Part of this new economic and social impact evaluation in such a statement studies the effects upon local fishing communities, surrounding fishing communities and the safety implications of human life at sea.
In addition, the bill also requires the Secretary of Commerce to publish a plan for implementing and conducting cooperative research programs. These programs can include acoustic technology, electronic catch reporting and electronic monitoring devices, some of which the University of Massachusetts has championed.
Attorney General Coakley has long advocated for the New England fishing industry. In August 2011, AG Coakley voiced support for legislation filed by Senator John Kerry (D-Boston) and Congressman Barney Frank (D-Newton) to address the excessive and harmful enforcement actions taken by the federal government by reimbursing local fishermen for their legal fees.
In May 2013, AG Coakley sued NOAA for ignoring the devastating economic impact of the new regulations and allegedly using flawed science to over-restrict the Massachusetts fishing industry. The suit aimed to block the new rules from being further enforced or implemented.
In June 2013, the Attorney General supported critical state funding for fisheries research that used sonar and other methods to determine an independent count of the number of groundfish in New England waters.