Senate Approves Bill to Revamp Fisheries

Friday, December 08, 2006

By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer

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WASHINGTON — Congress was poised to pass a bill Friday to revamp management of the nation's marine fisheries and strengthen protections against overfishing of dwindling stocks.

The sweeping bill requires the use of annual catch limits and enhances the authority of eight regional fishery management councils, as Congress struggles to protect vulnerable fish stocks while keeping struggling fishing industries afloat.

The Senate adopted the measure on Thursday. The House was expected to vote on it late Friday before Congress adjourns for the year.

The bill reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act through 2013. The 30-year-old law is the main law guiding fishery management in waters between three miles and 200 miles offshore.

Supporters said the bill would strengthen current law by requiring an end to overfishing, science-based management of the nation's fisheries and penalties for illegal fishing in international waters.

"Our oceans are in serious trouble and this legislation will help to reverse their decline," said Sarah Chasis, director of the Oceans Initiative for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

She and other environmentalists hailed a provision in the bill establishing a "cap and trade" system that sets overall limits on the number of fish that can be caught, while allowing fishermen flexibility in how they divide up shares of the total catch.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the nation's fisheries, said the bill would provide an economic lifeline to fishermen while ensuring a secure supply of fish.

"This legislation is not a perfect solution, but I believe we have struck an appropriate balance between preserving the marine resources of our coastal communities with these fisheries management tools," she said.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who led efforts to update the law that bears his name, said lawmakers had heeded a call by President Bush to end overfishing. Bush, in a speech this fall, urged Congress to reauthorize the fishing law and called overfishing harmful to the United States and the world.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the new law builds on the legacy created by her predecessor, former Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Wash., who co-sponsored the original fisheries law in 1976.

At the insistence of West Coast lawmakers, the bill includes language to speed recovery of Klamath River salmon stocks in California and Oregon. For fishermen adversely affected by recent closures aimed at protecting threatened fish, there would be disaster relief programs.

"Congress is finally realizing the enormous importance of the Klamath to West Coast salmon fisheries ... and it could not be more timely," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

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On the Net:

Information on the bill, H.R. 5946, is at http://thomas.loc.gov

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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