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Ocean Bills Riding the Omni Wave

In addition to the $1.7 trillion in annual spending (our summary here), the FY23 omnibus also served as a vehicle for slew of additional ocean- and environment- related bills. These bills add to the long list of other ocean bills that made it through on the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (our summary here).

Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act

Original bills: S.273 | H.R.404

This bill passed Congress in 2020 and was vetoed by President Trump. It expands the definition of large-scale driftnet fishing to prohibit the use of gillnets with a mesh size of 14 inches or greater. This expanded prohibition does not apply within the U.S. exclusive economic zone for five years and requires NOAA to conduct a transition program to facilitate the phase out of large-scale driftnet fishing and promote the adoption of alternative fishing practices with a goal of minimizing incidental catch of other marine species.

Fishery Resource Disasters Improvement Act

Original bills: S.2923 | H.R.5453

This bill makes improvements to NOAA’s Fishery Resource Disaster Relief program with a goal to provide fishermen with disaster relief more quickly. It will:

  • Maintain the authority of the Secretary of Commerce to determine the existence of a fishery disaster, after which the Secretary would make funds available to be used by state or regional groups to assess the impacts of the disaster and conduct other activities that support fishing activity

  • Assign a 120-day timeline for the Secretary to evaluate a request, either upon receipt or immediately after the close of the fishery season, significantly speeding up the process

  • Expand eligible uses of fishery disaster relief funds, including direct payments to affected members of the fishing community, habitat restoration and conservation, management improvements, job training, public information campaigns, and preventative measures for future disasters

Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act

Original bills: S.3429 | H.R.6651

The bill will form a panel of Alaska’s salmon stakeholders and research experts to study Pacific salmon trends and create a coordinated research strategy to support robust salmon runs in Alaska. The Research Task Force will be composed of between 13 and 19 members, with the Secretary of Commerce appointing one representative each from NOAA, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the U.S. section of the Pacific Salmon Commission; between two and five representatives from Alaska covering the wide array of state fisheries stakeholders, including subsistence, commercial or recreational users; and five academic experts in salmon biology, management, and ecology, or marine research. The governor of Alaska will appoint one representative of the state.

North Atlantic Right Whales Regulations

Original bills: S.3664 | H.R.6785

This title provides NOAA the authority to establish a program to provide competitive financial assistance and cooperative agreements to reduce the lethal effects of human activities on the North Atlantic right whales. The funding can be used for gear research and testing, subsidizing the use of gear, training fishermen, and monitoring to support dynamic management of fisheries and vessel traffic. NOAA is authorized $50,000 per year to carry out the program, $40,000 of which must be used for innovative gear deployment and technology. The title also authorizes $300,000 per year for NOAA to conduct a Continuous Plankton Recorder survey to inform the conservation of North Atlantic right whales, in partnership with other institutions and in coordination with Canada.

The omnibus also includes a provision that relates to existing NOAA Fisheries regulations related to North Atlantic right whales. This provision deems the Final Rule implementing the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan in full compliance with MMPA and ESA for six years. It also requires NOAA Fisheries to: 1) promote innovation and adoption of gear technologies to implement additional whale protection measures; 2) promulgate new regulations consistent with MMPA and ESA that take effect by the end of the six-year period; 3) submit an annual report to Congress on the status of North Atlantic Right Whales and the transition of innovative gear technologies in the fisheries.

Growing Climate Solutions Act

Original bills: S.1251 | H.R.2820

This bill authorizes the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a voluntary Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program to help reduce entry barriers into voluntary environmental credit markets for farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners. It requires the Agriculture Secretary to assess the feasibility of establishing a program to facilitate a voluntary environmental credit market for farmers, ranchers, and landowners and establish this program if feasible. Eligible assistance providers and third-party verifier certifiers would: 1) facilitate the participation of farmers, ranchers, and private forest land-owners in voluntary environmental credit markets; 2) facilitate the provision of technical assistance to overcome barriers to entry to those markets; 3) ensure participators receive fair distributions of revenues for the sale of credits; and 4) increase access to resources relating to the environmental credit market.

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