(22 July, 1996 -- New York) The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) joined the more than 100 member organizations of the Marine Fish Conservation Network in calling on the Senate to immediately pass the Sustainable Fisheries Act (S.39) to protect marine ecosystems and save fishing jobs. The bill would amend and reauthorize the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the federal law that controls all fisheries in federal waters, many of which are being overfished and seriously depleted.
"S.39 takes major positive action to help the environment and the thousands of jobs and scores of fishing communities dependent on healthy marine fish stocks. This bill includes provisions to prevent overfishing and rebuild depleted fish stocks and the industries that depend on them," said Doug Hopkins, EDF senior attorney.
"In passing this bill, the Senate will take major steps to ensure that harvest is constrained to levels that will keep fish stocks healthy and productive. S.39 also contains measures aimed at reversing the degradation of fish habitat, which is crucial to the restoration of fish stocks, since most are dependent on wetlands, estuaries, and other coastal habitats," said EDF marine ecologist Dr. Rod Fujita.
Although S.39 would strengthen the Magnuson Act in many ways and has broad-based and bi-partisan support, its passage is in doubt. Senators Gorton and Murray of Washington are threatening a filibuster unless provisions opposed by Washington's fishing industry are changed or dropped. Alaska's Senator Stevens and Washington's Senators have failed to resolve their deadlock over provisions that favor the economic interests of Alaskan fishermen and coastal communities at the expense of some of the Washington state-based fishing fleet. One such provision in the bill would hobble a promising new fishery management tool -- Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) for fish harvest privileges.
"The bill's ITQ provisions, including a lengthy moratorium on new ITQ-based fishery management plans, restrict this tool excessively, and the regional dispute now endangers the bill," said Fujita. "EDF urges the Washington and Alaska Senators to negotiate quickly to modify the ITQ provisions and to resolve their other differences."
"EDF joins with the other Marine Fish Conservation members in supporting cloture to end the filibuster threat and to allow this important environmental bill to pass," said Hopkins. "The time has come for the Senate to pass this bill. Magnuson reauthorization legislation is several years overdue and the clock is running out on the 104th Congress. It would be a tragedy if this strong conservation bill were to die."
"Despite our reservations about the bill's excessive restrictions on ITQs, EDF strongly supports cloture to get this bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible," said Fujita. "S.39 would add many far-sighted conservation measures that would put US fisheries on the road to ecological and economic health. We are very pleased that the bill's sponsors have also indicated they will offer a managers' amendment on the Senate floor that includes additional changes to ease some of the most onerous restrictions on ITQs."