American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update on Reauthorization of the Magnuson Act

Legislative Action:
The House passed its Magnuson Act reauthorization bill -- H.R. 39 -- in the fall of 1995. The Senate did not pass its bill -- S. 39 -- until September 19, 1996, leaving little time to conference the two bills. Although Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), author of H.R. 39 and chair of the House Committee on Resources, along with other prominent House members felt their bill was much stronger, time was expiring on the 104th Congress. Realizing that it was "this bill or no bill at all," they adopted the Senate bill. President Clinton signed S.39 into law as PL 104-297 on October 11, 1996.

In response to an increasing number of foreign fishing vessels utilizing the seafood resources in water offshore of the United States, Congress enacted the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA) in 1976. On March 1, 1977 marine fisheries within 200 miles of all United States coasts came under federal jurisdiction, and an entirely new multifaceted regional management system began allocating fishing rights with priority given to domestic enterprise. The MFCMA was most recently reauthorized and extensively amended in 1990 (PL 101-627), and the current authorization for appropriations expired at the end of FY 1993.

The Bill:
The 104th Congress focused on the four major challenges facing marine fishery managers, which are habitat degradation, overfishing, funding, and bycatch (catching non-targeted organisms). Many of these issues are addressed in changes to the requirements of the Fishery Management Plans (FMP) that regional councils craft for specific fisheries. These plans must describe, identify and minimize adverse effects on essential fish habitats; set objective criteria for determining whether the stock is overfished; employ conservation and management measures where overfishing has occurred; assess the amount and type of bycatch occurring in the fishery; minimize bycatch to the extent practicable; and minimize the mortality of bycatch that cannot be avoided. Within six months, the Department of Commerce must issue guidelines to help the councils describe and identify essential fish habitat in these management plans. Furthermore, federal and state agencies must consult with the Commerce Department to ensure their actions do not adversely affect essential fish habitats.

To prevent overfishing, the law changes the definition of the optimum yield of fisheries, basing it on maximum sustainable yield "as reduced by any relevant social, economic, or ecological factor". It also requires the publication of a list of all fisheries under each council and the fishing gear used in those regions. After six months, fishermen are prohibited from utilizing gear that is not covered on the list without obtaining prior approval. The law also establishes a three-year moratorium on the implementation of a quota system, during which time the National Academy of Science will conduct a study on the impacts of quotas, which will aid Congress when it reauthorizes the Magnuson Act in 2000.

Sources: Environment and Energy Study Institute Monthly Pulse; Congressional Research Service

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, Government Affairs Program, January 3, 1997

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