Fishermen concerned by Young’s MSA changes

Congressman Don Young, never a friend to environmentalists but never before a foe of fishermen, is coming under fire for his proposed changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary tool used to manage federal fisheries.

The changes include a section that says fishing regulators may “consider changes in an ecosystem and the economic needs of the fishing communities” in setting annual catch limits, removes a requirement of a 10-year stock assessment period for rebuilding depleted fisheries, and makes regional management councils such as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council responsible for environmental review, eliminating the need have outside review or to adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act.

That change has prompted complaints from some Native groups, who usually support Young.

Young claims it is all in the name of flexibility, and to keep lawyers out of the decision making.

“I’m trying to keep the ‘legal beagles’ out of the fishing industry, where they’ve used the legal beagles for the environmental community to impede the fishing process and the proper harvesting of fish and the stocks,” Young said during debate on the bill in the Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs.

New Mexico Congressman Raul Grijalva, ranking Democrat on the committee, countered: “HR 1335 would take us back to the dark ages by gutting science-based requirements to rebuild over-fished stocks and to set annual catch limits.”

Others have echoed that concern.

Another fear is that allocation battles will increase and get ugly, due to a provision that expressly requires an examination of the allocation between sport and commercial interests in the south Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

John Sackton, editor of, writes, “This would result in a permanent political campaign to privatize fisheries as ‘recreational only,’ cutting out the commercial sector and depriving the seafood industry of the ability to sell these products to the American public.”

He adds that it would also decimate any chance of new investment in the commercial sector, where the existing uncertainty of stock size and markets would be compounded by the certainty of repeated allocation fights.

While that provision is limited to the South, it is easy to imagine other regions demanding the same provision.

The bill has passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee. There is no companion bill in the Senate yet.

Seawatch is going fishing for the summer.Cristy Fry can be reached at