NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Local Environmentalists: Proposed Changes To Fishery Management 'Could Threaten Years Of Progress'

Red Grouper
Red Grouper

A local environmental nonprofit is speaking out against proposed changes to federal fishing regulations outlined under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 

The law has regulated fisheries in the U.S. since 1976. It was amended in 1996 and 2007 to help rebuild fish populations and prevent overfishing.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a partisan bill with largely Republican support called H.R. 200 - Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act that could give regional fishery councils more freedom to set catch limits.

Jennifer Felt, ocean campaign director for Conservation Law Foundation, said the change could threaten years of progress.

"These new regulations established by this bill would give the (management councils) the legal flexibility to set even looser standards, and we know that this will only compound the problem for fish like Atlantic Cod that are already on the brink," Felt said. 

According to NOAA Fisheries, Atlantic Cod in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine are both overfished, meaning the size of their population is less than the size required to catch the most fish for the greatest ecomnomic gain without depleting them, and are subject to overfishing, meaning the percentage of cod being removed from the ocean is exceeding what it should be. 

Felt said the House bill would allow regional fishery managers to set their own catch limits without using federal scientific data.

She added the bill would also weaken rebuilding plans, which currently require depleted stocks to be rebuilt in as short a timeframe as possible, typically not to exceed 10 years.

"What we need for our coastal communities, for our fishing communities is to ensure that management practices are planning for the next generation and for the future of healthy, sustainable fisheries," Felt said. 

Since the early 2000s, 44 fish stocks across the country have been rebuilt and are no longer technically considered to be overfished. 

However, the National Coalition for Fishing Communities made up of seafood processors, commercial fishermen and boat owners said in a support letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan that eliminating the 10-year requirement for rebuilding fish populations would allow management councils "to determine the optimal path and duration for stock rebuilding." 

The coalition also said changing the way annual catch limits are set makes "both scientific and common sense" because it would allow councils "to consider ecosystem changes and the needs of fishing communities when establishing ACLs." 

The U.S. Senate has yet to pass its version of the bill. 

Copyright 2018 The Public's Radio