This legislative session (the two-year 115th Congress, 2017-2018) has been a busy one for federal fisheries policy, with relevant legislation being introduced and moving through the Committee process in both the House and the Senate. But the bills have seemed to have hit a stalling point. When that point breaks and things begin to move ahead is the question of the day. We are anticipating a potentially busy fall as these bills continue moving towards passage.
The House Natural Resources markup of H.R.200 on December 13, 2017 integrated portions of the House Modern Fish Act (H.R.2023) through an Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute (ANS). We feel the bill would undermine the strong science and conservation measures within the current Magnuson-Stevens Act and promotes greater uncertainty in the future management of our fisheries. It would threaten the law’s strong foundation and proposes to weaken many conservation measures including the mandate to use science-based fishing catch limits.
After the House markup, the focus shifted to the Senate and on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, during an Executive Session, the full Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee marked up S. 1520. Similar to what happened in the House, the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), also offered an Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute (ANS) just prior to the February 28 executive session. While the amendment improved some of the worst aspects of the bill, we would like to see the Senate address reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act through a comprehensive bill instead of a piece-meal approach.
Moving forward, H.R. 200 ANS as passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, H.R.200 ANS, has little chance of passage in the Senate. Given that and limited room in the House’s floor schedule, it is unlikely that H.R.200, as amended, will move forward without major overhauls.
Sen. Sullivan (R-AK), the Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard could circulate his own MSA reauthorization discussion draft at some point. This is the one major piece of the puzzle that isn’t on the table right now. Or S.1520, as amended by the full Senate Committee, could see Senate floor time and somehow integrated with H.R.200 ANS.
Regardless, preparing to take quick action when and if these bills begin to move again will be important. The future of our fish stocks and the many small businesses and coastal communities that depend on them is very much in the hands of Congress.