The "Managing Our Nation's Fisheries" Conference
November 15, 2003
I was just sitting there thinking about the Magnuson Act. When I was a young senator I went to Kodiak and I commandeered a navy plane, the navy had a base their at the time, it was just about Christmas time and we flew up the Pribilofs in a Navy Albatross and as we flew I counted about ninety Japanese trawlers that were in Alaska waters, and they were in those days there year round almost. I got to talking to Senator Magnuson about that and we devised the Magnuson/Stevens Act and went into a series of hearing on it. People forget what our goal was to extend our nation's boundaries on the seas so that we could protect our resources to the 200 mile limit and so that we could provide a new kind of management scheme. We set out to address the issue of sustainability in our fisheries. Our solution sought improved management of marine resources and recognized that fisheries off our coast require area-specific management we determined that "one size fits all" would not fit all in fisheries off our coast.
When congress enacted our bill, Congress set in motion the most successful federal-state management program ever devised. Our plan created federal-state management on a regional level. Just think of that, we delegated to the Councils, a portion of the federal authority and the state did likewise and the concept has worked.
It ensured that we will manage our resources and sustain our fisheries, I believe, for generations to come if we can sustain this against the current attacks that are being made on this management process. Ours was not an act to protect fishermen, boat owners, processors, consumers, or state and national prerogatives; it's was act that protects the basic reproductive capacity of our fisheries to assure that the resource would be available to Americans for generations to come.
As you know I am most familiar with the North Pacific Council's course of action. It resembles, I believe, the actions taken by the rest of the Councils here. Our regional council has simply required that sound science and conservative management measures remain in place for the fisheries under its jurisdiction. For 25 years, annual catch limits for the north pacific groundfish have been set at or below the acceptable biological catch level recommended by scientists, federal scientists. Pollock biomass now is currently near all-time high level, in 2002 total capacity fish level of 3.54 million metric tons and an acceptable biological catch level of 2.1 million tons. Our North Pacific Fisheries Council set the total allowable catch at 1.5 million metric tons. We have protected the reproductive capacity of Pollock to today it is four to five times the size of Pollock biomass at the time this Act was enacted.
I reference the success the North Pacific Council has had with managing groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea as an example of the potential of the great potential that is yet to come as other regional councils start more intensive management and in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner.
Now, more than ever, regional councils strive to defend their process and to bring all sectors together to craft balanced approaches to marine resource management. We all know that is a daunting task; it won't be accomplished easily.
We are in a defining period for regional councils and fisheries management policy in general. Recommendations from the U.S. Commission on ocean policy will shape the debate about future policy regarding the management of our nation's marine fisheries. Congress will, I believe, listen closely to the commission's recommendations.
Let me say parenthetically that Ed Rasmussen is here. I thank Ed. Asked that Ed be appointed to that national commission, his father was head of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission and the family has had a substantial involvement in our fisheries on an advisory basis. And during the time of the Magnuson/Stevens Act I talked to his father Elmer quite often. And I do believe, Ed, you have done a great job and I do thank you for participating, we are looking forward to those recommendations.
Resource managers, marine scientists and policy advocates in this conference room must be ever vigilant about the motives and intentions of competing groups that wish to steer the debate away from sound science and balanced resource management and toward draconian mandates and absolutes.
Only a terrible and misguided ocean policy would recommend locking up our waters or creating vast "marine reserves" where no activity at all can take place just for the sake of doing it. Mechanisms already exist to protect sensitive marine areas based on sound science and with a stated purposes and articulated goals. I would like to remind all in this room, as we have learned with land-based resource management, if a resource is closed down, it is nearly impossible to reopen it.
In the North Pacific alone there are over 100,000 nautical square miles of marine environment already either completely off limits to any fishing or strictly restricted to protect critical habitat. And those are areas that are designated by our Regional Council. We involved in Alaska politically and in the management of resources support that effort. Those areas were designated by the regional council based on stated objectives that will allow for both the sustainability of the resource and the viability of the industry and communities that depend upon that resource.
Another equally terrible policy objective is the attempt to federalize regional councils to reduce your relevance to that of subcommittee status. That is the recommendation that is coming from another group. Under that system you would only provide input and recommendations to some new governance panel consisting of a new level of federal and state representatives. I shudder to imagine the trouble which we will encounter if decisions about when and where fishing should take place are brought back to Washington D.C.. The mechanism we have now works! And as Bill says when it comer right down to it the final decision on an appeal is made here. But it is made after a process of listening to scientists and listening to people who know the area and know the requirements of the area and know the sustainability of the area make those decisions. At times things need to come back to the desk here. Senator Magnuson and I intended that and I do believe that that is a check - a national policy check on the direction that might be taken by a Council. But it is only an exception that that would happen. The proposal that is before us now would be the rule. Every single action by a regional council would come to a governance board in Washington, D.C. I think my old friend Maggy would turn over in his grave like he was on a spit. Just no way to comprehend that that would take place to emasculate the Magnuson/Stevens Act.
I recommend your regional councils focus on using sound science, protecting habitat, reducing bycatch, protecting non-fisheries resources including marine mammals, and always follow responsible and sustainable fishing practices.
That is what it is all about. Not about those of us here in the room. But those in the future who will need this protein based resource. And it must be sustained. Regional Councils should determine your relevance in ocean policy and marine resource management. By that I mean you make sure we in congress can defend the work you do and argue for your continued management of our nation's fisheries resources by adhering to goals of the Magnuson/Stevens Act.
Now there is one little thing I would like to chat about before I leave. And that is the problem of riders on bills that I manage. We have some this year, a little controversial. But I want you to keep in mind - this is the bill for next year. For the 2001 bill I accepted an offer...an amendment to extend the IFQ moratorium at the request of Senator Snowe. She is the Chairman of the Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee. I introduced as am amendment to the Appropriations bill, the State, Justice, Commerce Bill the Coastal Zone Land Management Act. An entire bill, at the request of Senator Snowe. We added another Northeast Regional Council seat, we amended the Magnuson act in an appropriations bill to add another seat when there was a controversy in New England and it could be settled by what? An amendment to an appropriations bill.
Now those who are attacking me in particular right now ought to look at a little bit of history. The difficulty is in trying to get legislation on the calendar of the Senate now. We are equally divided almost. It is almost impossible to get a standing bill to the floor without someone offering an amendment, a non relative amendment to the legislative proposition. So Leaders don't call up bills the way we used to. You really have to get a time agreement, you have to get an understanding. You can't get bills passed the way we used to coming out of committee like Commerce. Now I have served on Commerce longer than any Republican in history. And I know the Commerce Committee jurisdiction. I also know the problems of getting a bill from Commerce Committee onto the floor.
This year we held a hearing on the crab rationalization recommendation of the North Pacific Fisheries Regional Council. A unanimous recommendation from the Council, which was brought about by an amendment to a previous appropriations bill where we requested them to study the system of the crab resource in the North Pacific because of the enormous number of deaths in that fishery. 70 people in the nineties died because of fishing accidents on crab fishing boats, primarily sinking boats. Now this is a little close to my heart because my son was out there for fifteen years! And he was a fishing boat captain. A crab fishing boat captain. And I remember sitting with the former Admiral of the Coast Guard, his son was on another boat and we would talk in evenings around the Senate when we had business there and wonder where our sons were in January and February; December, January and February. And twice my son went out with two other boats and came back alone.
Now this bill is not some sort of pork. This is a recommendation of unanimous of the North Pacific Regional Council and held a hearing! The Commerce Committee held a hearing. I was allowed to Chair that. And other members of the region and Senator Snowe were there. We listened to the complaints of some of the people about the system. And we have tried to amend that a little bit. But we have come up now with an amendment to put into affect the North Pacific Regional Council's unanimous recommendation! And from the ads that Oceana and the Pew Commission and others are putting in to the newspapers and the radio and television around the country you would think this is something never been done before. And you would believe that is was done in the dark of night. It was offered in committee, it was debated in committee, it came out and it sat on the floor and they told us they can't get the bill up. We can't get it up because the Chairman of the Committee objects to taking it because there are riders on that bill. Again, as though it is something brand new.
We had to put them there because we couldn't get the other bill up. Now if this system is going to be protected so there are fewer deaths in the crab fishing industry off our coast in the coming year. That bill's got to pass. And I want you to know that as far as I'm concerned it's going to pass.
In this business that I am in, and I have been in it now for 35 years, I have become sort of like a turtle. I've got a hard back; it's a hard shell back. I don't care what they say about me. My son's now a politician, he's a state senator, he doesn't care what they say about him. Neither one of us are getting rich, that's for damn sure. We are doing what we think is right. And I invite everyone here who are supporting those ads, just keep it up. Cause I am sure that newspapers, radio and tv stations need just a little bit more money. But what I telling you is - look the facts before you criticize the process. The process we follow on appropriations is to accommodate people, members of Congress who have emergencies that cannot be solved through the legislative process. And we have to have the support of the Congress, as a matter of fact in the Senate we have to have the support of sixty Senators to do that.
Lastly, if you will let me just say to you, as one of my friends used to say "if I had known I was going to live so long I would have taken better care of myself." I am hopeful that we will start a national review of the Magnuson/Stevens Act. There are some things, you know, time passes, new problems to deal with. There are problems that we didn't even contemplate. There are problems of speed and accessibility of boats, accessibility of capacity. I think we should have hearings around the nation. I think we should listen not only to use on the councils, but to some of the people who want to critics you. They criticize us; we will let them criticize you too, all right? Let's have a national debate. And let's look to extending this bill so that it lasts another twenty-five years. That should be our goal. Not to criticize it but to improve it and to make it work even better.
It is great to be with you. Thank you very much.