WASHINGTON (Dec. 9, 2006) -- Congress took a critical step forward in protecting and restoring our nation's oceans by passing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act this weekend, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said.

The nation's premier ocean fisheries law, which governs the management of fisheries in federal waters, was last reauthorized in 1996. The new legislation would strengthen the requirements of current law by requiring an end to over-fishing, emphasizing science-based management of our nation's fisheries and imposing penalties for illegal fishing in international waters.

"Our oceans are in serious trouble and this legislation will help to reverse their decline. It strengthens current law by requiring an end to over-fishing and by requiring regional fishery management councils to set harvest levels at or below the levels recommended by scientists," said Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC's Oceans Initiative.

The legislation also would strengthen penalties for illegal fishing in international waters. "This bill will help bring fishing practices in international waters up to U.S. standards," said Lisa Speer, director of NRDC's Water and Oceans Program.

"The legislation maintains the requirement that depleted fish populations be restored to healthy levels as quickly as possible and within 10 years, where biology allows," said Roberta Elias, NRDC's ocean advocate. That provision had been under heavy attack from those seeking to weaken the act, Elias said.