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President Biden signs American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act into law

WASHINGTON – This morning, President Biden signed into law Senate Bill 497, the “American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act,” which “requires the Department of Commerce to establish an American Fisheries Advisory Committee to assist in the awarding of fisheries research and development grants,” restore the voice of the fisheries’ most important stakeholders, and support the long-term vitality of American-caught seafood.

The Saltonstall-Kennedy (S-K) Act of 1954 established a program to provide funding for fisheries marketing, research, and development. The program is funded by a permanent appropriation of 30% of the previous calendar year’s customs receipts from imports of fish products. These funds have grown steadily from $26.7 million in 1980 to $182.8 million in 2020.

But since the early 1980s, Congress has directed NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to use these funds for stock assessments, fishing information networks, survey and monitoring projects, cooperative research, and “interjurisdictional functions.”

In 2021, only $11 million was left for grants to support the fishing industry. Critics have questioned whether this allocation reflects the original intent of the S-K Act.

To inform how grant funds are allocated, Congress originally authorized a group of experts from different segments of the fishing industry to advise on commercial fishing problems and needs. Following a 1972 law, the original American Fisheries Advisory Committee was disbanded. In the committee’s absence, NMFS decides, by its own criteria, who receives grants. Critics have questioned whether the priorities of commercial fishermen match those of NMFS, and whether the S-K Grant Program is addressing the needs and priorities of the domestic fishing industry.

The American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act reestablishes a board of experts, with members chosen regionally and across all sectors of the fishing industry, to bring fishermen back into the process of identifying needs and funding priorities.

S. 497 was sponsored by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and cosponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

More information about the Saltonstall-Kennedy grant program is available in this July 14, 2020 Congressional Research Service “Background and Issues” report by Harold F. Upton.

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