May 17, 2006- Statement on Rep. Markey's Adopted Amendment to Protect National Marine Sanctuaries

Mr. Chairman, Rep. Saxton has offered, and I strongly support, an amendment to strike from the Pombo bill the language dealing with National Marine Sanctuaries. My amendment would strike the text of the substitute amendment from page 61, line 1 through page 62 line 3, thus preserving current law regarding the protection of our 13 National Marine Sanctuaries, which include the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank sanctuary off Massachusetts.

The Chairman has proposed to change current law so that the system of compromise that currently prevails is replaced with a system of preemption.  This is a bad idea.

Under current law, great care is taken to honor the work of the Regional Fishery Councils whenever the Sanctuaries promulgate regulations to protect these special areas that have been set aside to protect a host of values that go beyond, but include, commercial fishing.  In fact current law requires that the Sanctuaries defer to the Regional Fishery Councils under Magnuson to actually draft the regulations regarding fishing in sanctuaries.  But they do so knowing that ultimately, the regulations must provide that when fishing takes place in a national marine sanctuary, it be done in a way which meets the preservation mission of the Sanctuaries Act.  The Secretary reviews the draft regulations from the Regional Fishery Councils for fishing within marine sanctuaries to ensure that they are consistent with the goals and objectives of the individual sanctuary and the goals of the Sanctuaries Act.

Today’s bill would turn this on its head.  Instead of requiring the Fishery Councils to meet the needs of the Sanctuaries, the Sanctuaries would have to meet the needs of the Fishery Councils The underlying language would therefore allow the relatively narrower purposes of the Magnuson Act – optimum yield for the fishery—to trump the broader values of ecological health, noncommercial resources, research and education that we seek to protect in our National Marine Sanctuaries

The current process by which marine resources are managed within a Sanctuary is a good and highly collaborative one. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) creates goals for a sanctuary by drafting a management plan. In the National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the management plan relies on an advisory committee that represents a broad array of interests reflecting the ecological purposes of the Sanctuaries Act, including the research community, conservation education, marine transportation, recreation, whale watching, fixed-gear commercial fishing, mobile-gear commercial fishing, the fisheries management council, the Coast Guard and others. 
 
The Regional Council is then given the first opportunity to draft regulations for fishing within the sanctuary making sure that they are in line with the goals and objectives outlined in the sanctuary's management plan. NOAA and the Secretary had never rejected draft regulations proposed by a council until recently in the Northern Hawaiian Islands. Often, this collaborative process leads to the councils using Magnuson to regulate a species, as happened with the krill off of California that whales feed on.
 
Knowing that NOAA and the Secretary must ultimately assure that the goals of the Sanctuaries Act are met when reviewing fishing regulations, the councils naturally draft regulations that do a pretty good job working with NOAA to draft regulations. The councils know that they cannot simply impose the goals of Magnuson on a sanctuary and that conflicts will be resolved by the Secretary of Commerce in favor of the sanctuary.   The underlying language in this bill, however, would destroy this balance, and would essentially invite the councils to draft regulations that tilt heavily towards Magnuson without regard to the goals of the National Marine Sanctuary Act.  If this bill were to pass in its current form, the days of the councils consulting with NOAA will be long gone.
 
This issue needs to be put in context as well.  When there are conflicts between the Sanctuaries and the fishery councils, they only affect fishing areas within sanctuaries – a very, very small percentage of the overall fishing zone affected by the Magnuson Act.  Sanctuaries comprise only one-half of one percent of the total area of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – the area from 3 to 200 nautical miles off our coasts. And within the sanctuary system, 8 of the 13 sanctuaries have no restrictions on fishing at all.  Indeed, only 1.2 percent of the sanctuaries are no-take areas closed to fishing.
 
So we’re talking about 1 percent of one-half of a percent of the area off our coasts that has ever been completely closed to fishing as a result of the Sanctuaries Act.

Again, it appears to me that the current approach is the model of reasonable compromise.  The process works.  We shouldn’t change a process that works well simply because some members don’t like a particular outcome.

I urge the adoption of the Saxton/Markey amendment in order to preserve the effective and collaborative process that is currently in place and ensure that we can continue to protect the precious marine life in these special places off our coasts.