ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND PRAISES PASSAGE OF MAGNUSON BILL

Calls For Speedy House Passage Without Further Wrangling

September 19, 1996
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(19 September, 1996 -- New York) The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today applauded the Senate's passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act (S.39) to protect marine ecosystems and save fishing jobs. The bill amends and reauthorizes the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the federal law that controls fisheries in federal waters, many of which are being overfished and seriously depleted.

"S.39 will help the environment and the thousands of jobs and scores of fishing communities dependent on healthy marine fish stocks," said EDF marine ecologist Dr. Rod Fujita. "This bill takes 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."

"With only days left before Congress adjourns, the clock is about to run out on this important bi-partisan environmental legislation," said Doug Hopkins, EDF senior attorney. "It is imperative that the House now pass this bill and send it to the President without further wrangling with the Senate."

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 Senate bill. The House and Senate bills differ in several respects having to do with economic allocations between different sectors of the nation's fishing fleet and between different states' fishermen.

"The painfully long Congressional negotiations over economic allocation issues have to end or this legislation will sink," said Hopkins. "The Senate's Magnuson bill passed today reflects a good faith effort to accommodate fairly the competing economic interests and incorporates most of the House's Magnuson bill, including its strong conservation provisions. EDF encourages the Congressional leadership to make sure that the House now passes S.39 without trying to re-open any economic allocation debates, particularly the most contentious debates between Alaska and Washington State and over Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs)."

"One reason fisheries tend to decline or collapse is that fishermen often try to catch as many fish as quickly as possible, because any fish left in the water for conservation purposes could be caught by someone else," said Fujita. "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, S.39 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 S.39. EDF looks forward to working with the National Academy of Sciences, the fishing industry, fishing communities, and environmentalists to design equitable and effective ITQ programs."