Don Young wants more credit than he deserves for 1976 landmark law

One of Rep. Don Young's perpetual gripes is about the name of the federal law dealing with fisheries conservation—the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation & Management Act.

Sometimes he says this directly and other times he hints about his failure to get the credit he thinks he deserves.

He mentioned this grievance again in an interview with Alaska Public Media this week before the House approved a GOP bill to modify the law.

“I like (to) take pride in that bill. It’s my bill, the Magnuson Act,” Young said.  “It went over to the Senate and the Senate did what they usually do, they named it, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. And it shouldn’t have been named that. I won’t go into what should have been named.”

The next time Young, 85, repeats his claim about the name of the law, he should be confronted with the legislative history, which tells a story of a far more broad-based effort to enact the measure. He exaggerates his role and underplays that of others. He deserves some credit, but not as much as he gives himself.

He had been in Congress for less than three years at the time of passage, with both the House and Senate under Democratic control. He was one of many elected officials who had a part in getting the bill approved.

The late Sens. Warren Magnuson, a Washington Democrat, and Republican Sen. Ted Stevens were among those who had more to do with the bill becoming law than Young. He is the one who is still alive, however,  and serving in Congress, so he feels free to tell the story his way.

As far back as 1988, Young was running campaign ads praising himself for  "almost singlehandedly making the 200-mile fishing limit the law of the land."

Young has some key details wrong in his version of history, according to Congressional documents from the time. During Congressional debate this week he said "we had opposition from just about every liberal in the business."

Opposition to the bill in 1975-76 from some in Congress and the likes of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Ford administration dealt largely with fears that the 200-mile limit would disrupt ongoing negotiations for the Law of the Sea treaty.

But the bill became law by wide margins because of a strong bipartisan consensus. The proponents included many Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate.

The law, as first approved, was known as the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of  1976, a landmark measure to regulate fishing within 200 miles of U.S. shores and prevent overfishing.

Former President Gerald Ford signed it in 1976.  "It is indeed unfortunate that the slow pace of the negotiations of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference has mandated our course of action here today. However, the foreign over fishing off our coasts cannot be allowed to continue without resolution," Ford said.

The treaty, in its final form, has never been approved by the U.S. Senate.

An early version of the bill that Ford signed was introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Gerry Studds, on Jan. 14, 1975. It had 24 cosponsors and other members of the House introduced 13 identical bills. The measure passed the House by 208-101 that year.

On the House floor, Rep. Bob Leggett, a California Democrat, said that California Republican Rep.  Don Clausen was the first lawmaker to propose a 200-mile bill in the House. "I know he is
very pleased to see us come up with a bill in final form, and we are pleased to have his support for the final version," Leggett said on Oct. 9, 1975.

Clausen, a veteran Congressman, said the 1975 bill was the result of "10 years of hard work by many people," and that he and Studds had worked together to coordinate "contents and strategy for nearly three years."

"Someday, Gerry, we should write a book on the establishment of a marine fisheries conservation zone off the coasts of our United States. It would be an extraordinary historic document and certainly a best seller," Clausen said

"Your leadership in the committee and among your fellow Democrats has dovetailed superbly with efforts of Mr. Forsythe of New Jersey, Mr. Young of Alaska, Mr. Pritchard of Washington, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Emery of Maine, Mr. Lott of Mississippi, Mr. Ruppe of Michigan, and myself as we strategized, met with President Ford and other leaders in an effort to protect and represent all interests of the United States. Without a coordinated bipartisan effort our objectives could never be realized," Clausen said.

When the bill was under review in the Senate, where it also had strong backing, Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel clashed with Stevens and Magnuson, trying to stall. He claimed the experts were on his side.

"A friend of mine used to say that an expert is a dumbhead away from home. But, as a practical matter, these experts are the same ones who, when Sen. Bob Bartlett and Sen. Magnuson moved to extend the U.S. fisheries zone to 12 miles, screamed there would be anarchy on the seas and that we would have all the straits closed in the world," said Stevens.

It was Stevens who said on the Senate floor 43 years ago that the bill should be named after Magnuson. "He has demonstrated his leadership as chairman of our Commerce Committee, and has been most persistent in seeing to it that the bill is in the situation that it is today," Stevens said.

 "Again, I commend my good friend. I remind him that he made the move to name the 12-mile bill after my predecessor, Sen. Bartlett and I have been most pleased to be able to respond as an Alaskan and as a good friend of Sen. Magnuson—this is the Magnuson bill now," Stevens said.

When the bill emerged from a conference committee, Magnuson's name was not on it, though he and Studds received praise for their extraordinary efforts, along with Stevens, Leggett and others. 

In 1980, as Magnuson ended his 36-year career in the Senate, Stevens again called to name the law for Magnuson. "This past Wednesday, believing it only fitting that on the eve of Sen. Magnuson's retirement, this act should be named after its sponsor and pioneer, I offered an amendment to a salmon bill which renamed the act the 'Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976.' The amendment and the bill passed without objection. The fishermen of this country and my home State of Alaska owe Sen. Magnuson a debt of gratitude," Stevens said on Dec. 13, 1980.

He said it was the most important fishing legislation in the nation's history. In 1986, Stevens, Sen. Frank Murkowski and 20 other senators backed a Senate resolution calling Magnuson the "nation's preeminent leader" in getting the bill passed.

A decade later,  a 1997  amendment stuck into a giant omnibus appropriations bill changed the name again.

 "The conference agreement includes a new provision, not in either the House or Senate-reported bills, renaming the 'Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act' as the 'Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act,'" a summary published in the Congressional Record on Sept. 28, 1996 said.

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