July 29, 2015
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act:
Legislative Actions in the 114th Congress
During the 114th Congress, both chambers have continued
efforts to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery
Conservation and Management Act (MSA; 16 U.S.C.
§§1801 et seq.). The MSA governs management and
conservation of commercial and recreational fisheries in the
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ; between 3 nautical miles
and 200 nautical miles from shore). The act established
eight Regional Fishery Management Councils, which
develop fishery management plans and amendments. The
Secretary of Commerce approves and implements plans.
The MSA was last reauthorized and extensively amended in
2006 (P.L. 109-479). On June 1, 2015, the House passed
the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing
Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 1335). On
June 25, 2015, the Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science, and Transportation approved the Florida Fisheries
Improvement Act (S. 1403). Although current House and
Senate versions include some common provisions, they
differ significantly and the outcome of these efforts remains
an open question.
During the first decade following the act’s passage in 1976,
fishery policy focused on controlling and replacing foreign
fishing and on developing U.S. fisheries in the newly
declared 200-mile Fishery Conservation Zone. Over the
next two decades, management priorities shifted to include
greater recognition of the need to sustain fish populations
and respond to overfishing.
An ongoing policy challenge is balancing conservation and
utilization of fish populations. Although there is general
agreement that fish stocks should not be overfished and that
overfished stocks should be rebuilt, questions remain with
regard to the timing of management actions, the choice of
management objectives, how stock management objectives
should be achieved, and the amount and types of
information needed to make these determinations.
Achieving balance among different management objectives
is closely related to allocating fishery resources among
users, developing and supporting management institutions,
and investing in management and research.
In the 114th Congress, two MSA reauthorization bills have
been introduced in the House. H.R. 1335 is similar to a bill
(H.R. 4742) that was reported by the Committee on Natural
Resources in the 113th Congress. The Fishing Economy
Improvement Act (H.R. 1826) would make fewer changes
to the existing statute than H.R. 1335 and focuses on
different issues. H.R. 1335 was reported by the Committee
on Natural Resources with amendments and subsequently
was passed by the House. During the markup hearing and
again during floor debate, a substitute similar to H.R. 1826
was introduced, but it was rejected on both occasions.
Currently, the MSA includes requirements to stop
overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, and establish annual
catch limits (ACLs). H.R. 1335 would increase
management flexibility by amending these sections. H.R.
1335 would replace the 10-year rebuilding requirement
with a time frame that “may not exceed the time the stock
would be rebuilt without fishing occurring plus one mean
generation.” It also would add exceptions to stock
rebuilding requirements for various reasons such as limited
council jurisdiction over stocks, mixed stock fisheries,
informal fishing agreements, and economic harm to fishing
communities. It would add the term depleted and define it
as a decline in stock biomass regardless of its cause, and it
would replace the term overfished with depleted.
H.R. 1335 would modify ACL requirements for certain
stocks and under specific circumstances. H.R. 1335 would
allow councils to consider changes in an ecosystem and
economic needs of fishing communities and would not
require ACLs for certain stocks. It would allow councils to
develop ACLs for stock complexes and for multiyear catch
H.R. 1335 would add requirements for new catch share
programs and provide a statutory definition of the term
catch share. These programs currently are defined more
narrowly as limited access privilege programs (LAPPs).
H.R. 1335 would require a referendum of eligible fishermen
for all new catch share programs. The referendum would
apply only to New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic,
and Gulf of Mexico fishery management regions. H.R.
1335 also would require periodic review of catch share
In addition, H.R. 1335 would add provisions to change the
relationship between the MSA and other environmental
laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA; 42 U.S.C. §§4321 et seq.), National Marine
Sanctuaries Act (NMSA; 16 U.S.C. §§1431 et seq.),
Antiquities Act of 1906 (16 U.S.C. §§431 et seq.), and
Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. §§1531-1543).
The bill would require councils to develop fishery impact
statements for fishery management plans and amendments,
which would satisfy and replace NEPA requirements.
Another provision would provide the MSA with control
when conflicts occur with NMSA and the Antiquities Act.
H.R. 1335 also would add a provision to implement ESA
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Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Legislative Actions in the 114th Congress
recovery plans under the authority of the MSA and in
accordance with the processes and time schedules of the
The following are selected provisions in H.R. 1335:
transparency and the public process;
electronic data collection and data confidentiality;
cooperative research and management;
subsistence fishing (definition);
Gulf of Mexico reef fish assessments (transfer to Gulf
States Marine Fisheries Commission);
• fisheries research (assessment, planning, and data) ;
• process for allocation review of South Atlantic and Gulf
of Mexico mixed-use fisheries; and
• authorization of appropriations.
Some stakeholders, especially some segments of
commercial and recreational fishing sectors, support H.R.
1335. They assert that H.R. 1335 would provide the
flexibility needed to continue rebuilding depleted fish
stocks while offering economic relief to coastal
communities. They point out that H.R. 1335 would increase
transparency and ensure that more scientific information
would become available for data-poor stocks.
Some stakeholders, especially those representing
environmental interests, are opposed to providing greater
flexibility to manage fish stocks. They assert that the MSA
is working well, as indicated by the decreasing number of
overfished stocks. They also claim that H.R. 1335 would
weaken other related environmental laws such as the
NEPA, ESA, NMSA, and Antiquities Act.
The Administration strongly opposes the bill and asserts
that H.R. 1335 introduces a series of ambiguous provisions
that would extend rebuilding time periods and delay
significant economic and environmental benefits associated
with stock rebuilding. According to a statement of
Administration policy, “if the President were presented with
H.R. 1335, his senior advisors would recommend that he
veto the bill.”
In contrast to H.R. 1335, S. 1403 focuses on Southeastern
and Gulf regional priorities and would not authorize
appropriations levels. Although the bill concentrates on
regional issues, many of its provisions also would apply to
the other U.S. fishery management regions. H.R. 1403 is
similar to S. 2824, which was introduced during the 113th
Congress. Some sections of S. 2824 were similar to parts of
two reauthorization drafts that were circulated by the Senate
subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast
Guard. Near the end of the 113th Congress, a more
comprehensive reauthorization bill based on the
subcommittee drafts was introduced (S. 2991).
would change ACL requirements only for species that
spawn and recruit to the population outside of state waters
and the EEZ. Both H.R. 1335 and S. 1403 would provide
recreational fisheries the authority to use alternative
management measures such as extraction rates, fishing
mortality, and harvest control rules.
The allocation of fishery resources among different fishing
sectors—commercial, charter, and recreational—can be
extremely controversial. S. 1403 would direct the Gulf of
Mexico and South Atlantic Councils to review the
allocation of fishing privileges in their regions every five
years. In addition, S. 1403 would require the Secretary to
arrange for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a
study on fisheries allocation. H.R. 1335 also calls for a
review of allocation in these regions and for a study.
Although these provisions focus on the Gulf and South
Atlantic regions, some commercial industry representatives
have reservations about increasing attention to this issue
and believe these inquiries could have national
Other selected provisions of S. 1403 include the following:
• expanded use of the Capital Construction Fund to
include fish processing facilities and aquaculture;
transparency and public involvement in the council
fisheries research (assessment planning);
data collection and analysis; and
use of Saltonstall-Kennedy Act funding.
The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery is among the most
controversial in the United States due to allocation issues,
shortened recreational seasons, and uncertainties related to
data and stock assessments. Although overfishing is no
longer occurring, the stock still is considered to be
overfished and annual quotas remain constrained to allow
for stock rebuilding.
H.R. 1335 would repeal Section 407 of the MSA (red
snapper research and sector quotas), while S. 1403 would
repeal only Section 407(d), which requires sector quotas.
H.R. 1335 includes several additional provisions specific to
red snapper such as reporting and collecting data for red
snapper management; expanding state jurisdiction over the
recreational red snapper fishery to 9 nautical miles from
shore; and providing funds for assessments if oil rigs
adversely impact red snapper.
An amendment to H.R. 1335 was proposed to transfer all
management authority for red snapper from the federal
government to the Gulf States, but it was withdrawn. There
are now two stand-alone bills that would transfer authority
to manage red snapper (H.R. 3094 and S. 105).
Harold F. Upton, email@example.com, 7-2264
The committee-approved version of S. 1403 would not
amend current stock rebuilding requirements. Further, it
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