The federal government’s most important piece of fisheries legislation – the Magnuson-Stevens Act – is set to expire this year unless it is reauthorized by Congress. U.S. Senator Mark Begich says he and other members of Congress are pushing for some changes to the act but that is not likely to happen until next year. In the meantime, he says it’s likely that Congress will reauthorize it.
Many Kenai Peninsula residents involved in the fishing industry participated in what Begich called a “listening session” Wednesday, either in person in Kenai or via teleconference.
Begich is in a position of power when it comes to the process of revamping the Magnuson-Stevens Act, as the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries. He has recently held similar listening sessions with other user groups around the state. Wednesday’s session was focused on issues for recreational fishermen.
"With fishing in Alaska, sometimes you can get into a controversial debate," said Begich. "(This) is to gather information and put it together so we can have a debate."
Many issues were raised during the meeting, including how bycatch should be treated in the law, the science behind fisheries decisions and what the definition of “recreational fishing” ought to be.
Homer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Lavrakas wants to know if the federal government intended to take a look at the long-term economic impacts of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s proposed halibut catch-sharing plan, which is likely to go into effect for Southcentral Alaska next year.
"Our 500 members ... want to know what the trickle-down effect is going to be if ... we do go down to a one-fish limit," said Lavrakas. "What will that do to those retail outlets, for example?"
Begich said a good idea would be to come up with a good way to frame that economic question, something like, “What is the economic value of one halibut to the Kenai Peninsula?” or “How much less money would a visitor spend if they could only catch one halibut, as opposed to two?”
One thing that is not currently mentioned in the Magnuson-Stevens Act that Begich would like to see put addressed are the issues of climate change and ocean acidification.
Begich says he is planning several more meetings, teleconferences and listening sessions on the subject in the near future, involving all of the players in different fisheries and fishing communities across Alaska. He says he’d like to see as an end result a unified Alaskan voice on the Magnuson-Stevens Act that he can take back to the Senate.
"The goal is to do this in a deliberative process so that we make sure that everyone's needs are on the table ... with the goal that we come out with an Alaska position that is clear," said Begich.
Begich called the process of reworking the Magnuson-Stevens Act “monumental” but said he believes that Alaskans are up to the task. His office has set up an email account specifically for collecting comments about the Magnuson-Stevens Act re-authorization. It is firstname.lastname@example.org.