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Hearing of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee - "Implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act"


Location: Washington, DC

Good morning. Welcome to all our witnesses and other guests to this first hearing of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard in the 112th Congress.

This also marks my first hearing as the subcommittee chairman, a responsibility I take especially seriously because of its jurisdiction over so many issues key to our economy: from fisheries, oceans, weather forecasting and the multiple roles played by the Coast Guard in Alaska.

Today we will hear testimony from two distinguished panels of witnesses regarding the implementation of key provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act--or MSA--that were added by Congress when it was last reauthorized.

We hope to learn more about the impacts these changes and additions to the MSA are having on the Nation's fisheries and the individuals, businesses, and communities who depend upon them.

This landmark legislation was originally sponsored by several great friends of Alaska -- Senator Magnuson, our own senator, Ted Stevens, and Senator Inouye, and cosponsored by several Republican and Democratic Members on this Committee. It represented a truly bipartisan effort to carefully manage one of America's greatest assets -- our fisheries.

As most of us in this hearing room today know, marine fisheries conservation and management is a subject this nation has struggled with not just for years, not just for decades, but for centuries. These issues are never easy.

One of the most challenging has been, and likely will always be, how to properly balance the need for responsible stewardship of our fisheries for future generations with the needs of the individuals, businesses, and communities who rely on them today.

In Alaska, we've had a generally positive experience under MSA. Since taking control of these fisheries from foreign fleets in 1976, Alaska now produces over half the nation's fish landings and our major fisheries like salmon, pollock, halibut and cod are certified as sustainable. In fact, I contend Alaska has the best managed fisheries in the world.

We operate under strict catch limits or "Hard Tacks," as they're known. (TAC is an acronym for Total Allowable Catch). None of our groundfish stocks is considered overfished and most operate under some form of limited access program.

Not that these actions are non-controversial. Fishermen are fishermen so argue at length at council meetings. They feel the pain when quotas are cuts downturns in fisheries cycles.

But at the end of the day the Alaska fishing industry has learned to work within the rules of MSA and it has largely prospered.

I'm pleased to welcome a fellow Alaskan, Stephanie Madsen, a former chair of the North Pacific Council and now executive director of the At-sea Processors Association to address the Alaska perspective.

Given how contentious fisheries issues can often be, it is important to remind everyone that the 2006 reauthorization wasn't your typical fisheries bill. At the end of the day, the Senate passed it by unanimous consent, and the House passed it under suspension of the rules.

The 2006 reauthorization made several changes to the MSA in order to improve its effectiveness and strengthen fisheries conservation and management domestically and internationally.

Most notably, it amended the MSA to require for the first time the use of annual catch limits and accountability measures in all management plans in order to end overfishing, and provided fishermen and the councils with new tools to rationalize fisheries where they wish to do so.

Equally important, it imposed a requirement that all management plans for overfished stocks include a timeline for rebuilding that is as short as possible, and generally not longer than ten years.

The 2006 reauthorization also made important changes to the MSA aimed at improving the accuracy and reliability of data on recreational fishing activity in order to better manage so-called "mixed use" fisheries--fisheries that support charter and private recreational fishing as well as commercial fishing--including through the authorization of a new national saltwater angler registry.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how these and other changes and updates to the MSA are being implemented and what effects they are having.

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