Conservationists resist changes to U.S. fishing law

Critics say the new language could set back conservation efforts, endanger fisheries

Proposed revisions to federal fishing regulations has conservationists and fishermen divided, says a report from the Associated Press. The plan would alter several provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, but scrutiny has fallen on language allowing regulators to “consider changes in an ecosystem and the economic needs of the fishing communities” when setting annual quotas. The proposal comes from U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who says the new language will give local regulators more freedom to decide how to restore local fisheries. Skeptics counter that the law is a step backward.

5198590554_b348d3bf6c_z“If you want to tweak something, let’s have an honest discussion about fishing,” said Mike Colby. Colby is the president of Double Hook Charters in Florida. “This takes us back to an area and a time where we don’t want to be.”

With its present wording the Magnuson-Stevens act focuses on recovering fisheries, reducing bycatch, and scientific monitoring of fish populations. While any specific changes wait on a House Committee on Natural Resources meeting scheduled for today, putting economic concerns in the foreground suggests a radical departure from the law’s traditional intent. Conservationists are worried that the practical effects will be an approach that puts the wellbeing of fisheries second to business interests. Others worry that some fisheries may be able to opt out of federal quotas.

Among those voices is Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. Martens approves of some of Young’s proposal. The updated bill would call for more electronic monitoring equipment to measure fish populations quickly and accurately. Overall though, Martens is concerned that the proposal would end scientific approaches to setting catch quotas.

“There are a lot of people scared of losing their business who would probably be banging on the drum of flexibility. At a certain point we need to be thinking about the long term,” said Martens.

Young seems confident that the new law won’t be detrimental. In fact, he believes the changes are necessary. Writing in March, Young said “there ultimately comes a time when we must review and update our laws to keep pace with the changing dynamics of our industry and ensure they are being implemented as intended.”

Magnuson-Stevens has had its critics over the years, but many cite the optimistic results of a recent federal fisheries report as evidence that the law is working. On the other end of the spectrum are fisheries in danger of collapse, including Atlantic salmon and Maine cod. It’s also not clear that fishermen are burdened under the existing system. The NOAA reported in a 2010 meeting that fishermen were making more money on smaller catches.

Read the original AP story at Washington Times. And check back soon for updates and notes from the House Committee meeting.

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