Concerns on Annual Catch Levels Remain

WASHINGTON (December 15, 2005) -- The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee today approved bipartisan legislation that maintains important protections for the nation's fisheries and takes important new steps to rebuild fish populations and strengthen the local economies that depend on them, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

This legislation, S. 2012, would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation's premier law governing management of our ocean fisheries. It is co-sponsored by Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Trent Lott (R-MS), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and David Vitter (R-LA).

"Many of the nation's most popular ocean fish populations are seriously depleted," said Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC's Water and Coastal Program. "Senators Stevens and Inouye not only resisted pressure to weaken today's law, they incorporated new, forward-looking protections for threatened fisheries both at home and abroad. This bill sets the benchmark for legislation in the House of Representatives."

The bill preserves key conservation provisions enacted in 1996 that prevent overfishing and require rapid rebuilding of depleted fish stocks. This bill also adds new measures to:

  • Move the country toward more unified management of marine resources and habitats, an approach referred to as ecosystem-based management;

  • Require a more systematic process for scientific input into the setting of annual catch limits; and
  • Strengthen oversight of fisheries and marine resources in international waters.

Further discussions are expected to continue on the enforcement of scientifically derived annual catch limits. The bill as introduced had required fisheries that blow past annual catch limits to deduct the resulting overages from the next year's catch limits. The language approved today, however, would weaken that requirement.

"Setting annual catch limits at or below levels recommended by scientific committees advising the government and then holding fisherman to those limits is essential to keeping our fisheries healthy and productive," Chasis said. "Fisheries and coastal economies will continue to decline unless there is a firm way to prevent fishermen from blowing past scientifically determined limits on how many fish may be removed from our waters each year. There is a system that works well in Alaska and the bill needs to require the same model for the rest of the country."