For Immediate Release - June 05, 2015

AG Healey Urges U.S. Senate to Help Massachusetts Fishing Families

AG Sends Letter to Senate Committee Leadership Supporting Passage of Magnuson-Stevens Act with Amendments that Strengthen Protections

BOSTON — In a letter sent today pdf format of MSA Letter
file size 3MB to U.S. Senator John Thune, Chairman of the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science & Transportation, and Ranking Member Bill Nelson, Attorney General Maura Healey urged the Senate to expedite its review of the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 1335), and to swiftly reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), which the House passed earlier this week.

“The Massachusetts fishing industry is facing the worst crisis in its history,” AG Healey stated in the letter pdf format of MSA Letter
file size 3MB. “The reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and the changes proposed by H.R. 1335, 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 fishermen, but for all of the nations’ fisheries.” 

Originally passed in 1976 and reauthorized in 2006, the MSA is the primary law governing the management of marine fisheries in federal waters and is aimed at conserving fish species, preventing overfishing and maintaining the economic benefits of the fishing industry. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the eight Regional Councils are given authority by the MSA to impose limits on the amount of fish caught. The science used to determine the catch limits, however, is controversial. A lawsuit brought by the AG’s Office in 2013 against NOAA contended that the science and ultimately the severe catch limits caused significant harm to the New England Groundfish Fishery and is one of the main reasons why the fishing industry is struggling in Massachusetts.

By updating the law soon set to expire, Congress will help provide relief to the struggling Massachusetts fishing industry.  Specifically, the law updates the outdated scientific practices which have prevented local fishermen from accessing fish. The law also replaces the one-size-fits-all fisheries management approach under existing law and allows local fishing experts to tailor plans to meet the needs of their regions.

The proposed amendments to the MSA, emphasized in the AG’s letter, highlight the importance of using sound and reliable science, suggest appropriate uses for the Asset Forfeiture Fund (“AFF”), and promote increased transparency in the assessment and management processes.

Updated science

If adopted through the reauthorization process, H.R. 1335 makes improvements to stock assessment processes and supports better and more reliable science, a key issue in a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office against National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) in May 2013. The bill’s amendments compliment the recommendations outlined in the National Academy of Sciences Report, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Fish Stock Rebuilding Plans in the United States. The recommendations in the report are arguably less disruptive to fisheries, provide more predictability for possible stock reductions, avoid steep decreases in future stock reductions, and remove the current fishing limits on healthy stocks that are tied in with other fish species in the same fishery.

For example, the bill provides more flexibility in stock assessments by replacing the current ten-year rebuilding requirement with a science-based flexible standard. The bill also takes into consideration environmental factors and predator-prey relationships.

Asset Forfeiture Fund (AAF) Reform

Reauthorization of the MSA provides an opportunity to address the widespread and well documented mismanagement and misuse of the MSA’s AFF.  Under the new law, the money in the AFF will go toward data collection and will allow states to use monies from the AFF to survey and assess fisheries where data has not been collected.

An adopted amendment to the bill, which was filed by Congressman Bill Keating (D-Bourne), also authorizes the AFF to fund fishery research and independent stock assessments, conservation gear engineering and at-sea and shore side monitoring, fishery impact statements and other priorities needed to rebuild or maintain sustainable fisheries.

Transparency

The bill also seeks to increase transparency and collaboration between the public and industry stakeholders, which is equally valuable to ensure effective and efficient management measures. Specifically, the bill allows for the creation of 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.

The bill also advocates for studying the economic and social effects on local fishing communities, surrounding fishing communities and the safety implications of fisherman at sea.

Additionally, H.R. 1335 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 advocated for on the state level.

In August 2011, the Attorney General’s Office advocated for legislation filed by then Senator John Kerry, (D-MA) and then Congressman Barney Frank (D-Newton) to address the extreme and harmful enforcement actions taken by the federal government by reimbursing local fishermen for their legal fees.

In May 2013, the AG’s Office sued NOAA for ignoring the disastrous economic impact of the new regulations and allegedly using flawed science to over-restrict the Massachusetts fishing industry.  The lawsuit aimed to block the new rules from being further enforced or implemented.

In June 2013, the Attorney General’s Office supported important 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.

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