Capitol Hill Ocean Week’s Congressional Roundtable

This week, AFS staff attended Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), an annual conference convened by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  Each year, CHOW brings together more than 600 national and global policymakers, scientists, scholars, businesses and conservation leaders to address pressing science, conservation, and management issues facing our oceans and Great Lakes.

A Congressional Roundtable featuring Ocean Caucus members, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) provided lively and informative discussion on bi-partisan approaches to solving marine challenges.  The panelists provided some insight into the budget and some hot topics to monitor in the coming months, including legislation to address marine debris and ocean acidification, as well as the prospect of a Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization in the near future.

Budget:

The panelists addressed the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal which recommends sharp cuts to conservation programs.  Rep. Kilmer, whose district includes the Puget Sound in Washington State, felt that it was a “completely unserious proposal by the administration” that doesn’t represent his constituent’s interests in coastal resilience, fisheries or shellfish aquaculture.   Sen. Sullivan cautioned the attendees on the need to address fiscal sustainability in light of the escalating deficit, but maintained that Congress would “wreck this budget.”

Legislation to Follow:

Marine Debris

Senators Whitehouse and Sullivan introduced S. 756, the Save Our Seas Act, in March, to address marine debris.  The bill has now made its way out of the Senate Commerce committee.  A companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) has been filed in the House. Both pieces of legislation would provide a funding source for the cleanup and response for severe marine debris events, reauthorize NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through FY2022 and encourage the Executive Branch and the U.S. Department of State to become more engaged in understanding, prevention, and response to marine debris. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on this issue at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 22, 2017. A live video of the hearing will be available at www.commerce.senate.gov.

Ocean Acidification

This week, Reps. Derek Kilmer and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) reintroduced bipartisan legislation that aims to fight ocean acidification. House Resolution 2882, entitled the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act, would allow federal agencies to use existing funds to design prize competitions to increase the ability to manage, monitor and research ocean acidification and its impacts.

Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act

Sen. Sullivan indicated that we could see movement on re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act (MSA) soon.  In January, Rep. Don Young introduced H.R. 200 which would revise and reauthorize the MSA through FY2022; but as of this writing, no hearings have been scheduled on re-authorization.  AFS staff will update our membership as we learn of developments here.

Get Involved!

Sen. Whitehouse offered some excellent advice for making your voice heard to your member of Congress.  He counseled advocates for conservation causes to make the issue local to the member with whom you’re communicating and explain how the issue or proposed solution supports the local economy.  In light of ongoing budget discussions, we encourage AFS members to make your voices heard on the importance of programs slated for budget cuts. Your story is important to your member of Congress. Don’t know what to say or how to say it? AFS policy staff can help.  Reach out to Drue Winters at dwinters@fisheries.org or Tom Bigford at tbigford@fisheries.org for more information.