Committee Moves Bill Updating Magnuson-Stevens Act

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today moved a bill to update the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary fisheries law in federal waters. Alaska Congressman Don Young amended the bill to allow subsistence fishermen a voice on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

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Fish like halibut and pollock are caught at sea, but Young says inland fishermen should also have a say in how they’re managed.

“All I want is for them to have a voice, the same voice that the commercial and sport fisheries have, so they have utilization for a living source of food,” Young said.

Nominees for the North Pacific Council can be qualified based on their commercial or recreational fishing expertise. The law doesn’t mention subsistence users, and Young says they’re being short-changed on the Council.

“There has been a decline in fisheries that are used for subsistence and yet the subsistence users are neglected as far as taking in consideration the amount of fish that can be caught,” Young said.

His amendment would require the Alaska governor to consult with subsistence users before nominating North Pacific Council members. Tribes in the Y-K Delta and the Interior have been asking for representation on the Council. People there suspect Bering Sea fisheries are aggravating the Chinook salmon crisis. The Pollock industry says its cut way down on its Chinook bycatch, down to about 30,000 fish. But to subsistence users barred from catching even one, it sounds like a lot.

Sky Starkey, an attorney for the Association of Village Council Presidents, says the amendment is a good start in getting subsistence users into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but Starkey says tribes want a dedicated tribal seat on the council to press subsistence concerns.

“And the amendment that was introduced at mark-up today would not accomplish that purpose, at least not directly so,” Starkey said.

Current law says membership on the management councils should be “balanced” between different types of fishermen, commercial and recreational. Young’s amendment doesn’t change the balancing requirement to give any weight to subsistence.

It passed the committee with no opposition. The bill itself is largely similar to the draft in circulation since December.

Resources Chairman Doc Hastings told the committee they’d have more opportunities to shape the bill as it moves forward.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz