WASHINGTON The commerce secretary
would be required to identify the 20 U.S. fisheries with
the biggest capacity problems under legislation the House
Resources Committee approved Wednesday.
The committee voted 23-17 to send the bill reauthorizing
the nation's major fishing law, known as the Magnuson
Act, to the full House for consideration. The committee's
Senate counterpart has not yet acted.
The bill would authorize $1.2 billion over five years
for fishing programs, including a new government-industry
initiative to develop gear that reduces the catching
of fish that are unintentionally caught and destroyed.
The secretary's report on capacity would be due within
a year of enactment. The report would also include recommendations
for reducing the excess, including by retiring latent
Conservationists say some of its provisions would
weaken current law. For instance, the term "overfished"
would be redefined as fish stocks below a "natural range
of fluctuation" a change that will make it harder
to get species protected, critics said.
Supporters said the change is reasonable because it
will stop rebuilding plans from being triggered for
stocks that are low due to environmental reasons, not
Also, critics point to the bill's narrowing of habitat
protections for fisheries that are overfished or approaching
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., who wrote the legislation,
focused on troubled fisheries to lift the type of broad
protection mandates that have led to dozens of lawsuits
being filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service
since 1997, aides said.
When Congress adopted Magnuson in 1976, it was concerned
primarily with reducing foreign fishing in U.S. waters.
The landmark law established an exclusive U.S. economic
zone up to 200 miles offshore and created a regional
council system to manage fish stocks under the auspices
of the fisheries service, a Commerce Department agency.
But once the impact of foreign fleets off U.S. shores
was reduced, domestic overfishing began to occur in
the 1980s, prompting worries about conservation. That
led Congress to add explicit standards in 1996 to protect
fish and habitat, reduce the catching of unwanted fish,
and consider impacts on fishing communities.
But the service has not been able to enforce those
standards, leading to lawsuits, many brought by environmentalists.
Among its other provisions, the bill would:
· Require that fishing boats participating in
federally funded buyouts be permanently removed from
all fishing, even overseas.
· Set guidelines for establishing quota systems
in fisheries. A moratorium on quotas is to expire Sept.