The Bush administration proposed new guidelines Monday that it said would prevent overfishing, part of a plan for managing the nation’s marine resources.
Critics say they ignore important recommendations from a presidential commission.
Tougher fines and penalties, more peer-reviewed science studies and market-based decisions are other measures that will “help us toward ending overfishing and rebuilding our fish stocks,” said Jim Connaughton, White House Council on Environmental Quality director.
The bill describes how to reauthorize the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs the nation’s ocean fisheries. Its authorization expired after 1999, although its provisions remain in effect. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) led the last reauthorization in 1996. The legislation would guide local and regional fishery councils.
Steve Murawski, chief science advisor to the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service, said the administration didn’t back the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s recommendation that a group of scientists suggest the total number of allowable catches each year because “it would have Balkanized the process.”
Murawski said that the administration recognizes that good fishery management is based on peer-reviewed science and that the government should help fishermen make better business decisions by using quotas.
“In many cases, they do not make market decisions that are in their own best interests and the long-term interests of the country because of this race to compete with each other,” he said. “This survival of the fittest -- it generates a lot of conservation issues.”
Advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council denounced the bill, saying it revokes the requirement to rebuild an overfished species within 10 years and allows overfishing of some species to continue before legal protections kick in. The group said the bill also would undermine public participation by closing off meetings and comment periods, and require only that the amount of bycatch -- fish caught unintentionally -- be reported “to the extent practicable.”
The Marine Fish Conservation Network, another advocacy group, said the administration would be “turning back the clock on ocean protections by at least a decade.”