Happy 40th Anniversary, MSA
April 13, 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the primary law governing fishing in the waters of the United States. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (the “Magnuson-Stevens Act” or “MSA”) was a bipartisan effort by two great leaders, Senators Warren Magnuson of Washington and Ted Stevens of Alaska.
From the perspective of the At-sea Processors Association (APA), whose members own and operate a fleet of at-sea catcher-processors in federal waters off the coasts of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the MSA has been an unparalleled success in the area of responsible fishery management.
One of the primary goals of the MSA was to provide for the development of the groundfish fisheries in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska “on a continuing and sustainable basis”.
During the mid-1970’s, only a few US-flagged fishing vessels were operating in what was to become the new 200 mile “US Exclusive Economic Zone” (EEZ). Most of those US-flagged vessels were small shore-based boats that operated in the crab, salmon, halibut, sablefish and herring fisheries in the Pacific NW, Gulf of Alaska and the bering sea.
The larger-scale groundfish fisheries for cod, pollock and various flatfish species were dominated by hundreds of foreign-flagged fishing vessels from countries such as Japan, Korea, Russia, Poland and Germany that operated just outside the US “territorial sea”, which at the time only extended to twelve miles.
With the passage of the MSA in 1976, the waters between three miles and two-hundred miles off the US coast fell under the jurisdiction, management and control of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Eight Fishery Management Councils were authorized to develop fishery management plans (FMPs) for the various fisheries in their respective management areas, including the Pacific Fishery Management Council for Pacific Coast and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Alaska.
The FMPs must comply with a number of conservation and management requirements, including the 10 National Standards – principles that promote sustainable fisheries management.
Under the new FMPs, US fishermen and processors were provided priority access to the federal groundfish resources in the Gulf of Alaska, bering sea and Aleutian Islands. The assurance of priority access to the groundfish resources managed by the Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils provided the economic incentives for our members, other US fishermen and their shore-based colleagues, to make the financial investments necessary to develop the harvesting and processing capacity to fully utilize the groundfish resources in the US EEZ off the Pacific Coast and Alaska.
Today, forty years after passage of the MSA, the entire groundfish fishery in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have been fully Americanized by US harvesters, and fisheries management has become a transparent and robust process of science, management, innovation, and collaboration with the fishing industry.
There have been two amendments to the MSA. One in 1996, the Sustainable Fisheries Act, which made significant amendments to strengthen conservation and added the name of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. In 2006, the MSFCM Reauthorization Act strengthened the act to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase long-term economic and social benefits and ensure a safe and sustainable seafood supply.
With these amendments, solid science and the robust process outlined in the MSA there is no dispute that it has been an unqualified success – one that sets the “gold standard” not only for US fisheries in general, but for fisheries in other parts of the world as well.
Thank you Senators Magnuson and Stevens for providing your vision through guiding principles that have proven to work 40 years later.
Stephanie Madsen is a 45-year resident of Alaska and has been the Executive Director of APA since 2007. Madsen served on the NPFMC from 2001-2007, acting as Chair for four of those years.