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From DC to Tackle Box Part 1 (Congress & Legislation)

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How the US Governs Our Fishing

As we began to spread the word about Fissues.org, one theme was repeated at every trade show seminar and fishing club we visited. The election is over, and most people simply want to return to living their lives without the drama of 24/7 politics. Less rhetoric and more substance were key themes when the idea for Fissues.org was born back in 2011. Fissues.org is an attempt by a small team of conservation-minded recreational fishing advocates to simplify the very complicated system of fisheries management, so that maybe, when important actions are proposed, more conservation-minded citizens will choose to participate in democracy and have their voices heard.

Although most fishery management actions that matter to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions happen at the New England Fishery Management Council, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, when fisheries management actions happen at the federal level, they tend to have long-lasting effects on the lives of anglers. Thus, to be a one-stop source for news about fisheries management, Fissues.org needs a section dedicated to federal fisheries. This two-part article is both a civics lesson and a report on the current players in “fishy” DC. This is our attempt to explain how actions by the federal government end up in your individual tackle box…

Everything related to fisheries management within in the United States is authorized by legislation passed by the US Congress. Congress is made up of two elected government bodies: the US Senate and the US House of Representatives. Both chambers have traditional roles and personalities that are generally well known.

The most important act of Congress regarding fishing is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). We’ll talk specifically about MSA later, but for now let’s keep things generic and review how an idea makes it from thin air to becoming law.

US Senate

Within the US Senate, the work of governing is separated by committee. The Senate committee most connected to fisheries is the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. The current chair of the full committee is Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and the ranking member (most senior member of the minority party) is Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region members who serve on the full committee are Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH). For a bill to reach the Senate floor it must get through the full committee and subcommittee, where most of the initial work happens.

The subcommittee that handles fisheries legislation is the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere Fisheries and Coast Guard. The chair is Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and the ranking member is Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region members who serve on the subcommittee are Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), and Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ).

US House of Representatives

The US House of Representatives is structured in the same manner as far as work is concerned. The House Committee on Natural Resources deals with fisheries. The current chair of the full committee is Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and the ranking member is Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).  Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region members include Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA), Congressman David Rouzer (R-NC), Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA),  Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) and Congressman A. Donald McEachin (D-VA).

The House subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee that deals with fisheries is the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. The chair is Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and the ranking member is Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA). The three Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region members of the subcommittee are Congressmen Rob Wittman (R-VA) and Don Beyer (D-VA), both of Virginia, and David Rouzer (R-NC).

Budget

Both the House and Senate have individual committees that deal with “appropriations” or money, but spending the nation’s money is even more complicated than writing the nation’s law.

The federal budget process begins with the President’s budget. This budget is due to Congress by the first Monday of February, with a few exceptions, including a President in their first year in office, like President Trump. But the President’s budget submitted to Congress is effectively only a statement of Presidential policy priorities. The true spending authority lies with Congress and lawmakers are under no obligation to follow the President’s budget. Thus, Congress develops its own budget through the two Budget Committees. These budget bills provide top-line spending limits for each federal agency and must be passed by Congress. Once the budget bill is approved, then the House and Senate Appropriations Committees determine the specific line item spending levels for each agency through the normal appropriations process.

On rare occasion fisheries discussions come up under appropriations. When relevant and important, Fissues.org will cover appropriations.

Back to making laws: When legislation gets out of a subcommittee and is passed by the full committee, it tends to sit until leadership decides that it’s time to move the legislation. Lots of things affect the “floor schedule.” Legislation must first pass either the House or the Senate. When both have passed similar legislation, both versions are referred to a “conference committee.” When and if an agreement can be made on negotiated language, the legislation is sent back to both bodies for final passage. When this happens, it is sent to the President for signature. It is only when the President signs a bill that it becomes law.

Many fisheries related “bills” or potential acts of legislation are filed in either body each year. Many of these are given hearings before the subcommittees. Fissues.org will not report on legislation until there is a hearing or we feel the legislation is more than just a filed idea on paper. We value our time and that means we won’t waste your time reporting on legislation without momentum. Fissues.org is monitoring several existing acts of legislation, so keep an eye on the web site and our social media pages for current information.

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