Friday, April 14, 2006

In the News: The Oceans Resurface

How to best balance scientific information with industry and community needs in the creation of effective coastal management policies is again at the forefront of decision-makers agenda in our Nation's Capital. Building on the momentum of the Pew Oceans Commission and US Commission on Ocean Policy, multiple bills in Congress are attempting to solve this challenging question. However, to date very little has actually been done at the Federal level and as a result many are calling for immediate action. Two new bills are looking to rework the current fisheries management law, known as the Magnuson - Steven Fishery Conservation Act, but both are still struggling with determining the correct balance of science and community-based information from industry and others for creating legislation that provides for both economic and environmental security writes the NY Times in the Editorial below. JB

Published: April 14, 2006

Despite extensive studies demonstrating the poor health of America's coastal waters as well as its major fisheries and offering blueprints for recovery, Congress has done nothing. Now, at last, the matter is getting some traction. This is good news. But the important thing is to get it right.

At issue is the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens fishery conservation act, the basic law governing federal fisheries policy. The act does not address many issues that need attention. But strengthening it would help fish populations in American coastal waters, which extend 200 miles off shore, and that is no small thing. Many of those populations for which there is reliable data — among them Alaskan pollock, Pacific rockfish, redfish in the Gulf of Mexico — are struggling. Some, like North Atlantic codfish, have essentially crashed.

A Senate committee has reported its version of the bill. It retains all of the good elements of the act, which requires the country's eight regional policy-making councils to identify declining fish stocks and create plans to rebuild them. But it largely ignores two excellent ideas for improving it that were advanced by the privately financed Pew Oceans Commission and the Congressionally chartered United States Commission on Ocean Policy.

One was to give scientists much greater influence in the regional councils, which are now dominated by industry representatives whose short-term interest lies in catching more fish than is healthy for the species' long-term survival. The other was to require the councils to set annual, enforceable catch limits. Partly because of opposition from Northeastern senators politically beholden to local fishing interests, the committee abandoned the idea of hard targets and gave the scientists no more than an advisory role.


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