(27 September, 1996 -- Washington, DC) The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today applauded the House passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act (S.39) to protect marine ecosystems and save fishing jobs. The same bill was passed by the Senate on September 19 . If President Clinton signs the legislation into law it will amend and reauthorize the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the federal law that that controls all fisheries in federal waters, many of which are being overfished and seriously depleted.
"This legislation will help the environment and the thousands of jobs and scores of fishing communities dependent on healthy marine fish stocks. It includes provisions to prevent overfishing and rebuild depleted fish stocks and the industries that depend on them," said EDF senior attorney Doug Hopkins. "These amendments to the Magnuson Act take major steps to ensure that fish harvests are constrained to levels that will keep stocks healthy and productive. It also contains strong measures to reduce the terrible waste of fish and other marine life caught unintentionally," said Doug Hopkins, EDF senior attorney.
The House passed a Magnuson Act reauthorization bill (H.R.39) in October 1995 that contained strong conservation provisions very similar to those in the recently passed Senate bill. The 1995 House bill and the Senate bill differed in several respects having to do with economic allocations between different sectors of the nation's fishing fleet and between different states' fishermen.
"The House leadership deserves enormous praise for passing the Senate bill quickly without trying to reopen the economic allocation debates resolved last week by the Senate, particularly the most contentious debates between Alaska and Washington State and over Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs)," said Hopkins. "With Congress adjourning within a few days there just wasn't any time to reopen these issues. The Senate's Magnuson bill, which the House has just passed today, reflects a good faith effort to accommodate fairly the competing economic interests and incorporates most of the House's 1995 Magnuson bill, including its strong conservation provisions."
"One reason fisheries tend to decline or collapse is that fishermen often try to catch as many fish as quickly as possible," said Hopkins. "The allocation of ITQs for fish harvest privileges creates strong incentives for conservation because fishermen benefit economically as fish populations get healthier. However, ITQs are controversial because some fear that large firms would be favored over smaller operations, that it would be hard for people to enter ITQ fisheries, and that ITQ owners would receive large windfalls."
"Because of this controversy the legislation imposes a 4-year moratorium on new ITQ-based fishery management plans and directs the National Academy of Sciences to study ITQs and recommend guidelines for their implementation," said Hopkins. "Despite EDF's belief that a 4-year moratorium is too long, EDF strongly supports this legislation."
"The Environmental Defense Fund urges President Clinton to sign the Magnuson amendment legislation into law. The Marine Fish Conservation Network, a broad coalition of environmental organizations and recreational and commercial fishing groups, have worked long and hard with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to achieve this enormous Congressional victory for the marine environment, fishing related jobs, and coastal communities," said Hopkins.