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Bill introduced to loosen fisheries regulations
U.S. Rep Frank Pallone [D-6] on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would loosen a number of fisheries regulations that anglers have long decried as too harsh.
Pallone's Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2011 would:
- Extend the authorized time period for rebuilding certain fisheries;
- Call on government scientific and statistical committees to provide regional fishery management councils.
The fisheries are "overfished," which means anglers take more fish than the government has allowed.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act, the federal law which currently governs fisheries management, certain fish species were placed in rigid, 10-year timetables to reach a certain stock level, measured in pounds.
Anglers have long complained that while some species such as summer flounder have reached record high stock levels in recent years, fishing could be shut down or heavily regulated because a target number has not been reached.
The failure to reach the targets have led to difficult regulations on the species, including an 18-inch minimum size limit. Fishing advocacy groups have claimed that the 10-year timetables were arbitrary rather than scientific, but environmental groups have argued that fish species should be regulated until they attain the stock levels called for under the current legislation.
"We've said that rigid definitions, inflexible deadlines and arbitrary measures included in the [Magnuson-Stevens Act] would lead to a train wreck in several U.S. fishing regions, but not too many folks in DC had that vision," said Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a pro-fishing group that has backed Pallone in his long-time effort to increase flexibility in fishing regulations.
Pallone's bill also would put more emphasis on NOAA Fisheries' responsibility to provide detailed fishery impact statements for the Secretary of Commerce reporting on the economic impact each fishery management plan is having on coastal business. Fisheries managers, in the past, have been barred from considering impacts to businesses when setting regulations.
In addition to adding management flexibility on deadlines, the bill would also give the Secretary of Commerce more authority to suspend the application of annual catch limits in certain situations where a fishery is not classified as overfished, or is considered a rebuilt fishery.
Black sea bass, an important Shore area fishery, has been largely shut down during prime fishing months even though the species has exceeded government stock targets. Regulators argued that anglers caught too many fish in previous seasons, and compensated by shutting down large portions of the fishery even though stocks were considered healthy and growing.
"Fishermen are rightfully frustrated by overly burdensome management measures and a lack of access to healthy stocks created not by overfishing but by a lack of information on fish stocks and how the management of those stocks is working," Pallone said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, where he introduced the bill alongside co-sponsors Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).