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Salmon fishery. (Photo: NOAA)

Controversial fisheries law reform heads to Senate for debate

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Friday, July 13, 2018, 01:40 (GMT + 9)

The United States Representative House has approved a controversial bill that would revamp the key law governing how the federal government will manage the nation's fisheries.

The measure, called Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (HR 200), has been opposed by environmental groups as well as some commercial-fishing interests because they consider that it would weaken a federal law largely responsible for reversing overfishing of dozens of species, including red snapper, one of the Gulf of Mexico’s most popular game fish.

The bill in question, also known as the Modern Fish Act and sponsored by diputy Don Young, from Alaska, updates the Magnuson Stevens Act, the primary law that guides federal fisheries regulators.

“In Louisiana, as in places across the country, our fisheries are more than major economic drivers – they are a way of life for millions of normal, everyday people who like to fish, to be outside and enjoy the bounty of America’s waters,” pointed out MP Garret Graves, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The deputy praised a change that would give regional fishery boards, including the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the ability to consider new factors when setting catch limits. They might include changes within a species’ habitat or, as the bill states, the “economic needs of the fishing communities.”

In contrast, the current law says the councils must base catch limits solely on the recommendations of their scientific advisory panels.

Opponents contend the provision would inject politics into fisheries management decisions at the expense of science, creating loopholes to avoid rebuilding fisheries that need help.

“H.R. 200 would turn the clock backward on fisheries management and undermine important progress in restoring fish populations to robust levels that can provide Americans with fishing industry jobs and a steady supply of healthy seafood,” said Whitney Webber, a campaign director with the international environmental group Oceana.

For its part, the Marine Fish Conservation Network, deems the bill puts short-term economic gains above the long-term health of US fisheries that commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, seafood consumers, businesses, and coastal communities across the US depend upon.

Graves, meanwhile, added that he included a provision in the bill that fixes a “bewildering policy obstacle” to Louisiana’s coastal crisis, helping Louisiana advance its efforts to preserve what remains of its eroding coastal wetlands.

Seafood Harvesters of America, meanwhile, said in a letter to House leaders that the bill “would do very little to improve the management of the recreational fishing industry while severely undermining the sacrifices the commercial fishing industry has made to ensure that we are sustainably harvesting fisheries resources.”

The bill is to be debated in the Senate.
 
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