US Magnuson Fishing Act (MAGNUSON)
CASE NUMBER: 92
CASE MNEMONIC: MAGNUSON
CASE NAME: Magnuson Fishing Act
1. The Issue
The Magnuson Fisheries Conservation Act of 1976 officially
gave the federal government the authority to manage fisheries and
claimed the area between 3 and 200 miles from shore (2 million
square miles). This are, the U.S. Conservation Zone, is today
known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The act was designed
by Congress to "re-Americanize fisheries by controlling or
eliminating foreign fishing and to restore and conserve the fish."
Today the effectiveness of the act is being challenged by a number
of environmental groups, including Greenpeace. The claims made by
the environmental groups are two-fold. First, they believe that
there is a double standard within the committees created by the
Magnuson Act. Second, committees have been set up to allocate
fishing amounts to the fisheries so that the waters are not over
fished. Yet, a large majority of the committee members are
involved in the fishing industry privately.
In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnuson Fishery
Conservation and Management Act to protect both the American
fishing industry, as well as a number of species of fish found off
the U.S. coast. At the time the bill was passed, foreign boats
were responsible for 71 percent of the total seafood harvest taken
out of the territorial waters of the United States, it was feared
that neither the fish nor the American fishermen could survive the
overfishing that was taking place.
The Magnuson Act (named for Sen. Warren Magnuson [D.-Wash.])
created a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, in which only American
vessels were permitted to harvest fish. Foreign ships could
harvest highly migratory species, such as tuna, or excess fish that
American fisherman could not harvest. Foreign vessels fishing in
the waters needed permits from the Secretaries of State and
Commerce. The Act also created the National Marine Fisheries
Service, composed of eight regional councils, to manage the fish
stocks and guarantee their future.
If a foreign vessel was caught fishing within the 200-Mile
zone without proper authorization, the Act allowed for a maximum
penalty of a $100,000 fine, one year in prison and forfeiture of
the vessel and with all equipment.
Unfortunately, the Magnuson Act has been effective in meeting
only one of its goals -- protecting the American fishing industry
and keeping foreign vessels away from the U.S. coastline. The
other problem -- threatened species of fish in U.S. waters -- has
not been alleviated by the Act, and in fact some argue it has
worsened. According to Ken Hinman, "While the Act has eliminated
foreign fishing in our waters and fostered growth of a large and
highly sophisticated U.S. fleet, it did not get rid of overfishing
in our coastal waters." One source views the situation with a
certain irony: "In reality [the Magnuson Act] swapped foreign
exploiters for American exploiters."
The problems still associated with the fishing industry and
the continued overfishing of American waters, Congress is in the
process of amending the Magnuson Act. However, since the expected
changes will not affect the status of foreign vessels, the focus
here will simply be on the 1976 passage of the legislation and its
impact on foreign trade.
In 1975, when Congress began consideration of a law to protect
the American fishing industry and 14 species of fish from the
effects of overfishing by foreign fishermen, the Ford
administration was opposed to the extension of an exclusive fishing
zone to 200 miles. The White House and State Department, fearing
that such an action might result in retaliatory actions by the
countries most affected, favored waiting for the United Nations Law
of the Sea Conference to attempt to reach a treaty on protecting
American fish and fisherman. However, the Congress did not want
to wait until late 1976 for the Conference to meet and committee
action was initiated on the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and
Management Act in both the House and Senate.
On August 20 the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee
favorably reported out the Magnuson Act by a vote of 36-3, clearing
the way for a floor vote on the bill sometime after the summer
recess. The House voted on October 9, and H.R. 200 was easily
passed by a vote of 208-101 (only 309 Members remained for the
vote, which came on the eve of the Columbus Day Holiday).
Two days before H.R. 200 was passed in the House, the Senate
Commerce Committee had also favorably reported out the bill.
However, the road to passage was to prove more difficult in the
Senate than it had been in the House. Rather than going directly
to the floor for consideration as it had in the House, the bill was
to be sequentially referred to the Foreign Relations Committees and
then the Armed Services Committee, which each had 21 days to
consider and report back on the bill.
The Foreign Relations Committee, like the administration,
feared the possible diplomatic and trade repercussions of the bill
and favored waiting for the U.N. Conference to reach a treaty,
opposed the bill and reported it unfavorably on November 18 by a
vote of 6-7. This hurdle to passage was made less severe three
weeks later when the Armed Services Committee, which had
jurisdiction because of the bill's implications for naval vessels
and possible restrictions by foreign governments placed on U.S.
naval exercises in their territorial waters, favorably reported out
the bill by a vote of 9-7. However, no further action would be
taken by the Senate until after the Holiday recess, finally passing
S. 961 on January 28, 1976, by a vote of 77-19.
It was nearly two months before House and Senate conferees
could reach agreement on the bill, and the differences revolved
primarily around the creation and jurisdiction of the eight
regional councils that were to be responsible for setting the
limits on fish to be harvested from each of the various regional
fisheries. After agreement was reached on March 17, the bill was
sent to the White House, and President Ford signed into law the
Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (PL 94-265) on
April 13, 1976.
In 1976, Congress attempted to regain control over the U.S.
fishing territory of the North Atlantic. Their solution was the
Magnuson Act. Two of the key inventions of the Act was the
development of a very large U.S. commercial fishing fleet and the
creations of eight regional councils to set fishing limits and
allocate the catches between competing fishermen. The result,
almost twenty years later, is a serious threat of over fishing in
the North Atlantic.
One contributing factor and link between the fish population
problem and the Magnuson act could be a conflict of interest for
many council members. Although the council members deny any
conflicts, there are records which show otherwise. "Two council
members from Alaska, who own fishing boats or processing plants,
voted with other state representatives in 1991 to allocate more
pollack and cod to fishermen from their state than to competitors
from Washington State." In response to these allegations the
council members blamed the decline of the fisheries on the
government imposed regulations that slowed responses and provided
millions of dollars in low-interest loans to the industry in the
The structure of the council itself has been questioned. The
members are saddled with the task of preserving the "nation's
marine resources while minimizing damage to the fishing industry."
The plan submitted by the council is reviewed by the National
Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, who then forward their recommendation to the
Recently the Inspector General of the Commerce Department, who
oversees the councils, testified before Congress that "the
conflict-of-interest exemption covering the councils appears to be
the only one affecting some 1,000 councils that advise the
Government on various issues." In addition, and in the same year
the World Wildlife Fund found that 84 percent of council members in
1992 were drawn from the commercial or recreational fishing
The bottom line seems to be a flaw in the fundamental
structure of the Magnuson Act. On one hand, it establishes strict
boundaries for U.S. fishing and regional councils to ensure that
fishing regulations are in place. Conversely, the Act uses federal
subsidies to build up sophisticated fishing equipment that has
encouraged the industry to grow too large for the natural
resources. In the eyes of Greenpeace, the solution lies in
"amending the Magnuson Act so it protects the marine habitat and
makes fishing a privilege, not a right."
Some indirect impacts that may begin to show if the act is not
amended could be in the amounts of fish being fished, and the kind
of fisheries who are able to compete for the allocations. Also,
repercussions could be felt in the individual districts of
congressmen holding membership on the committees.
3. Related Cases
(1): Trade Product = FISH
(2): Bio-geography = OCEAN
(3): Environmental Problem = Species Loss Sea [SPLS]
4. Draft Author: Elizabeth W. Doering and Geoffrey Plague
B. LEGAL Clusters
5. Discourse and Status: AGReement and COMPlete
6. Forum and Scope: AGReement and IN PROGress
7. Decision Breadth: 1 (USA)
8. Legal Standing: LAW
C. GEOGRAPHIC Clusters
9. Geographic Locations
a. Geographic Domain : North America [NAMER]
b. Geographic Site : Western North America [WNAMER]
c. Geographic Impact : USA
10. Sub-National Factors: NO
More specifically those being affected are those who are
competing for fishing rights among the areas under the jurisdiction
of the eight regional councils of the Act.
11. Type of Habitat: TROPical
D. TRADE Clusters
12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Standard [REGSTD]
The committees have imposed quotas on the amount of fish each
fishery can harvest within the regional area, as well as who can
fish in the regions.
13. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: DIRect
14. Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact
a. Directly Related : YES FISH
b. Indirectly Related : NO
c. Not Related: : NO
d. Process Related : YES Species Loss Sea [SPLS]
15. Trade Product Identification: FOOD
Technically or substantively, every country in the world is
involved in this case, as the Act restricts fishing by vessels of
any foreign nations within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
However, the countries most affected by the Magnuson Act are Japan,
Mexico, Canada, Norway and the Netherlands (see SALMON case).
16. Economic Data
17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: MEDium
The $70 Billion worldwide fishing industry is in danger of
over-fishing, imperiling 20 million small-scale fisherman. The
Atlantic Coast weakfish catch down 85 percent since 1980 and the
Summer Flounder catch down is 70 percent since 1989 (see CANCOD
and TURBOT cases).
18. Industry Sector: FOOD
Unless something is done to regulate and protect the fish
population of the North Pacific and North Atlantic U.S. fishing
waters the supply will be extinct in the near future.
19. Exporter and Importer: USA and MANY
Table 92-1 shows the leading exporters of importers of fish in
1989. These totals do not include fish caught in international
waters and consumed in a country's domestic market. These figures
probably overshadow those shown here. The United States and Canada
are the largest fish exporters, followed by the European countries.
World imports are dominated by Japan, which accounts for over one-
third of the world total. The United States is the second largest
importer, followed by France. France also consumes the equivalent
of the entire U.S. export total.
World Fish Trade, 1989
(billions of dollars)
Country Exports Country Imports
World 26.6 World 27.3
USA 2.3 Japan 10.0
Canada 2.0 USA 5.7
Denmark 1.6 France 2.2
Norway 1.5 Italy 1.9
Netherlands 0.9 Spain 1.8
Japan 0.7 UK 1.5
E. ENVIRONMENT Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: Species Loss Sea [SPLS]
Fourteen species of fish, in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans,
including shellfish and anadromous fish (which live primarily in
salt water but spawn in fresh water), were the initial targets of
the legislation. Now 236 species are being monitored.
21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species
22. Resource Impact and Effect: MEDium and REGULatory
The effect of species facing extinction could have a ripple
effect starting most directly with the fishermen who will not have
enough fish to harvest to make their living.
23. Urgency and Lifetime: MEDium and 25-30 years.
The urgency of the situation is growing each day as the waters
continue to be over-fished. However, none of the original 14
species was perilously close to extinction when the ban was put in
place. Fish lifetimes vary from several months up to 25-30 years.
24. Substitutes: LIKE
Possible other species around the other world oceans but that
would no help the fishermen who do not have enough to fish to make
a living off of U.S. coasts.
F. Other Factors
25. Culture: NO
26. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO
27. Human Rights: NO
The effects could run across borders if the fishing declines
so much that it has a major effect on the export levels of U.S.
28. Relevant Literature
Buck, Eugene H. "The Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management
Act: Reauthorization Issues." Washington, D.C.:
Congressional Research Service; January 25, 1993.
Freeman, Paul. Puget Sound Business Journal, September
Gardner, Judy. "200-Mile Fishing Limit." Congressional Quarterly
Weekly Report. October 11, 1975. 2153-54, 2183.
Gardner, Judy. "Senate Panel Approves 200-Mile Fishing Zone."
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. October 18, 1975.
Gardner, Judy. "Senate to Act on 200-Mile Fishing Limit."
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. December 27, 1975.
Gardner, Judy. "Senate Approves Extension of U.S. Fish Zone."
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. January 31, 1976.
Hinman, Ken. "Biggest Threat to Fish is Overindulgence of the
Fishing Industry." The Sacramento Bee, Feb. 17, 1994: B9.
Karas, Nick. "Offshore Fishing Remains Problem." Newsday,
March 23, 1993: 118.
Meier, Barry. "Fight Looming in Congress Over Panels that
Regulate Commercial Fishing," The New York Times,
September 19, 1994.
Maxfield, David. "Congress Approves 200-Mile Fishing Zone."
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. April 3, 1976.
Milon, J. Walter. "U.S. Fisheries Management and Economic
Analysis: Implications of the Alaskan Groundfish
Controversy", American Agricultural Economics
Association, December, 1993.
Rhode, David. "Worldwide Fish Depletion Sparks Gunboat Diplomacy
Over Share of the Catch," The Christian Science Monitor,
August 24, 1994.
Sarina, Carl. "Where Have All the Fishes Gone? Overfishing,"
National Academy of Sciences, Issues in Science and
Technology, March 22, 1994.
U.S. Department of Commerce. Statistical Abstract of the United
States, 1993. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office;
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