Senator Kerry Introduces Bill To Strengthen Federal Fisheries Law

July 31, 2000

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has introduced a bill that if implemented would help restore and replenish our nation’s troubled fisheries. The 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act expired in October 1999 and Congress is considering bills to reauthorize and amend the law. Senator Kerry is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee’s Fisheries and Oceans Subcommittee.

Eight of the ten hottest years of the 20th century occurred during the ’90s, and virtually every month of 1998 set a record for being the hottest respective month on record. Most recently, the period from January through April 2000 was the hottest such period on record.

“This bill shows Senator Kerry understands that fishery management must change in fundamental ways to avoid repeating past failures,” said Doug Hopkins, senior attorney for Environmental Defense. “The bill lays the groundwork for managing entire ecosystems, instead of single fish stocks, and directs fishery councils to solve the problem of excess fishing capacity — too many boats chasing too few fish.”

Senator Kerry’s bill also boosts funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service, creates a national at-sea fishery observer program, calls for eight fishery ecosystem plans, reinforces protections for essential fish habitat, and addresses the failure to fulfill the 1996 law’s mandate to minimize bycatch.

“New England’s fishing communities are suffering hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues every year because overfishing has depleted fish populations and fishery managers have cut back catches to try to rebuild fisheries,” said Hopkins. “Senator Kerry’s bill offers new hope by telling managers to treat the underlying causes of overfishing, not just the symptoms.”

One of the most important provisions of Senator Kerry’s bill removes a current moratorium on individual fishing quotas (IFQs) and replaces it with comprehensive national standards. The bill would put this promising tool back in the managers’ toolbox and would assure that the significant potential environmental, social and economic and safety benefits of IFQs are realized.

“Senator Kerry deserves high praise in New England and around the US for his leadership in starting the important national dialogue on IFQs,” said Fred Krupp, executive director of Environmental Defense. “These proposed national standards point to the need to carefully match an IFQ plan with the unique needs of any fishery considering this tool.”

IFQs mean each fisherman gets an allowance or percentage of the total catch. When IFQs are made transferable, if a fisherman wants to catch more, he can purchase allowances from other boats. If a fisherman wants to catch less or leave the fishery entirely, he can sell the allowances. The system can put an end to the mad dash for fish, market gluts, and overfishing and help reduce overcapacity.