National Policy

Opposition Mounts to Controversial Fishing Bill

The 2014 cod population on Georges Bank, located off Cape Cod in the easternmost side of the Gulf of Maine, was the lowest ever recorded—roughly 1 percent of what scientists say would be a healthy population.

Fishing groups and conservationists are voicing concerns about a bill set for a vote Monday in the U.S. House of Representatives that critics say could seriously undermine the law that has guided sustainable fishing in the country for decades.

H.R. 1335 is the current House legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the nation’s primary fishery management law. Previous reauthorization processes have been bipartisan efforts with strong support from a broad range of stakeholders. H.R. 1335, however, has created sharp divisions rather than consensus.

Many organizations and individuals – including a coalition of 1,000 independent fishermen and business owners such as Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance – are urging Congress to reject H.R. 1335 as it heads to the House floor early next week. Last week, the Obama Administration stated that it would veto H.R. 1335 in its current form. Recent statements from Pew Charitable Trusts and the Fishing Community Coalition  address why the legislation is unacceptable.

In 1996 and 2006, “lawmakers [from both sides of the aisle] included strong, science-based measures that have led to the management successes we’re seeing today,” Ted Morton of The Pew Charitable Trusts wrote in a blog post. H.R. 1335, however, has been anything but a bipartisan effort, and “would jeopardize gains made since the last reauthorization and the further health of our fish populations,” according to the Fishing Community Coalition’s statement.

“By establishing broad loopholes, the bill could roll back the progress made in rebuilding vulnerable fish populations. It would open the door to overfishing by curbing the use of science-based catch limits,” Pew’s Morton wrote. “The legislation also would significantly weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and other bedrock environmental laws.”

Morton says we should instead be looking to update the law, rather than weakening provisions that are working. “The Magnuson-Stevens Act should be modernized in a way that advances a comprehensive approach to fishery management to help address serious threats facing our oceans, including warming waters and the loss of fish habitat,” he wrote.

The Fishing Community Coalition quoted Shannon Carroll, Fisheries Policy Director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, in a statement released  May 27.

“The solution is for Congress to mandate and fund the collection and science needed to effectively manage these fisheries, not create exemptions to the core conservation requirements that have successfully rebuilt more than 30 commercially important stocks since 2000” Carroll said.

Yes, U.S. fisheries management is not a perfect system, and New England has arguably struggled the most when it comes to fishery management issues. But New England’s problems are largely due to the risky decisions made by the regional management council, not with shortcomings in the law.

Many New England fish stocks remain among those that still need to be rebuilt. Only with a reauthorization bill that preserves MSA’s conservation goals and takes an ecosystem-based approach can we hope to see these stocks rebuilt.

Progressive fishing groups know this, and that’s why they oppose H.R. 1335. As Claire Fitz-Gerald of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance put it, “ultimately this would threaten our fishing businesses and communities.”


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