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Courtney Joins Magnuson-Stevens Act Listening Tour to Hear from New England Fishing Industry Stakeholders About Needed Improvements to Federal Fisheries Management

October 2, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) joined Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, to take part in a session of the nationwide fisheries virtual listening tour for a discussion on federal fisheries policy in the context of the New England fishery management region. Courtney and Huffman were joined by Reps. Seth Moulton (MA-06), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Ed Case (HI-01), Bill Keating (MA-09) and Senator Ed Markey (MA). Together they heard from a range of stakeholders—including fishermen, scientists, and Rep. Courtney’s invited guest, Meghan Lapp of Seafreeze Ltd.—who gave feedback on the current state of fisheries management under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and what they hope to see in future federal fisheries policy.

“Connecticut is one of the Heritage Fishing Areas,” stated Rep. Courtney in his opening remarks. “We used to have abundant lobster, and that’s almost vanished because of the sea change and temperature rise that you described earlier. If I had to share one perspective in terms of Southern New England, it’s that what’s happening out there in terms of species migration and the shift […] in terms of Mid-Atlantic species moving up into our region—sea bass, scup, summer flounder, which really have never been part of the New England Council jurisdiction. We’re seeing boats from the Mid-Atlantic region who, because of their quota position, are out there heavily fishing, and our fleet is pretty much handcuffed in terms of being able to participate.

“At the end of the day, I think that’s the issue that I hear the most about. Secondly what I would say, and Senator Markey referred to this and so did [Congresswoman Pingree], is that making sure we have a system that does the best job possible in terms of data collection and monitoring is critical. Part of what I see is the problem—and we are all passionate supporters of NOAA—is with the shrinking fleet size of NOAA, for our region we have basically one NOAA workhorse, which is the Henry Bigelow, and it covers from Maine to […] North Carolina. Just a couple days ago, NOAA announced that it was going into dry dock, and as a result the fall ecosystem survey is being cancelled. If you look at the projections—and I co-chair the Shipbuilding Caucus, as you know—the fleet size of NOAA is going to continue to shrink in the 2020s, and we’ve got to come up with a better system that uses the force multiplier to collect data out there. I think the system that’s being used on the West Coast […] to collaborate with industry partners […] is really, in my opinion, the only model that’s going to work so that we can continue to have time-sensitive, accurate data so that we get it right in terms of making sure we have a system that’s fair and workable in accordance with Magnuson-Stevens. […] We’ve really got to do something about strengthening NOAA’s budget, and getting their shipbuilding program much more robust so that all of America’s waters have the kind of technology out there to do it right.”

Rep. Courtney’s invited guest, Meghan Lapp, is the General Manager of Seafreeze Shoreside. In her testimony, she spoke about how local fishing communities could benefit from a Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization that offered more flexibility and support for sustainability:

“There are many things that I could speak to regarding the Magnuson Act today,” said Ms. Lapp, “but I wanted to give you a couple of solid recommendations that you can actually act on. The most important point I would make is that the Act requires reform and more flexibility to account for the needs of fishing communities in our nation. A 2014 George Mason University study actually showed fishing at the 7th most regulated industry in the nation—more so than oil and gas extraction, and more so than pharma manufacturing.

“It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. A lack of flexibility and common sense has made it increasingly difficult for the U.S. fishing industry to compete with cheap foreign imports from countries with little or no fisheries regulation, which is not only bad for us fishing communities, but it’s also bad for the global marine environment. […] The sustainability of U.S. fishing communities has to be a greater focal point of Magnuson—if that’ is not explicit in the law, then regulars can’t always give it the priority it requires when making their management decisions. Ensuring sustainability of fishing communities in the language of the law, and elevating it as a legal priority, is a key change that Magnuson reauthorization should include.”

To watch Ms. Lapp’s full commentary and Monday’s full event, click here.

The ideas that Members of Congress receive from this listening tour, and from other stakeholder outreach that is already underway, will inform the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing fisheries management in U.S. federal waters.