Bipartisan Bill Contrasts with White House Plan, Maintains Key Conservation Provisions

WASHINGTON (November 16, 2005) -- The Co-Chairs of the Senate Commerce Committee late yesterday introduced bipartisan legislation firmly holding the line against strong pressure to weaken crucial policies to restore America's depleted fisheries. The measure also takes new steps to protect important fish populations and the communities that depend on them both domestically and around the world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Introduced by committee co-chairs Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the new bill reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the country's premier law governing management of our nation's ocean fisheries. The House Resources Committee is also working on legislation to reauthorize the Act.

Contrary to a proposal backed by the Bush Administration, the Senate bill preserves key conservation provisions of current law that prevent overfishing and require rapid rebuilding of depleted fish stocks. It also introduces important new measures designed to prevent fishermen from blowing past catch limits determined at the beginning of each season and that strengthen penalties for illegal fishing on the high seas.

"Ocean fisheries are approaching a state of silent collapse. The authors deserve credit for not only resisting the enormous pressure to weaken current law, but also incorporating new protections for threatened fisheries both at home and abroad," said Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC's Water and Coastal Program.

One problem, however, is that the Senate bill does not require that the annual catch limits be set at or below the level recommended by the scientific committees advising the government. Such a measure was one of the key recommendations by the congressionally established U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

"Unregulated and illegal fishing on the high seas decimates valuable fish stocks, destroys deep sea corals, which are important hotspots of ocean biodiversity, and puts the American fishermen who must comply with U.S. controls on fishing, at a serious competitive disadvantage," said Lisa Speer, co-chair of NRDC's Oceans Initiative regarding the bill's international provisions. "This bill sends a strong signal that the U.S. is serious about addressing unregulated and illegal fishing."