March 13, 2008

Another bill in Congress would give more flexibility in rebuilding stocks

By SUSAN WEST


U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) introduced legislation in November that would give federal fisheries managers some flexibility in setting deadlines for rebuilding fish stocks to healthy, sustainable levels.

And, last month Jones threw his support behind a very similar bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

Joshua Bowlen, legislative director for Jones, said Jones hopes Pallone, a member of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, will be able to move that bill forward.

“The bottom line is that Congressman Jones simply wants to see the problem corrected,” Bowlen said.

Pallone’s bill, HR 5425, is nearly identical to Jones’ Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2007 (HR4087).    

Like HR 4087, the bill aims to ease the economic hardships that hit fishermen and fishing communities under the rigid 10-year deadlines for stock recovery set out in the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act.

“When deciding how best to rebuild fish stocks in complex environments, we must use sound biology and science, not arbitrary deadlines set by Congress,” said Pallone at a news conference announcing the legislation.

“The legislation I’m introducing in Congress is about rational rebuilding, and it is the best way to rebuild our fisheries without bankrupting tackle shops, party boats and commercial fishermen,” he continued.

The bill introduced by Pallone, like that introduced by Jones, would allow managers to extend the 10-year rebuilding time frame in cases where limiting fishing alone won’t rebuild a stock, where economic hardships can be minimized when a stock is rebuilding, where scientists have changed recovery targets after a management plan has been implemented, and in multi-species fisheries that are rebuilding.

And, both bills include a formula for capping the number of years allowed for stock recovery.

Pallone’s legislation differs from HR 4087 on two points.  It allows managers to extend a rebuilding schedule when a recovery target exceeds the highest stock abundance of the past 25 years.  It also requires non-fishing influences, such as development, agriculture, and the predatory behavior of marine species, to be considered in the evaluation of rebuilding plans.

Environmental groups oppose changing the 10-year rebuilding deadline in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, maintaining that stocks need to be rebuilt as quickly as possible.

“My concern is that the temptation to push back rebuilding will perpetuate management based on politics rather than science, and that rebuilding would become elusive,” Dan Whittle, director of the southeast oceans program at Environmental Defense, said in January.

HR 5425 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans.  

The bill has picked up 13 co-sponsors from New England through Texas, including U.S. Rep Henry Brown of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee.

“We are extremely pleased to see bipartisan support.  All of the sponsors are extremely supportive and recognize the importance of this bill to both recreational and commercial fishermen,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.  


   

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