- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It depends on who’s talking, but the decision by a Congressional committee to send HR 5018, the American Fisheries Management and Marine Life Protection Act, to the full House is either good, bad or somewhere in between.

For those not familiar with HR 5018, the bill would re-authorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which governs fishery management activities within the federal 200-mile limit through eight regional fishery management councils.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s (TRCP) Angling 4 Oceans campaign liked the whole deal, saying it welcomed last week’s action in the House that would improve the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The TRCP’s campaign wanted to make sure issues of importance to recreational anglers would be incorporated into the legislation and it was happy that House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, California Republican, did just that.

“In addition, an amendment accepted by the committee added language that considers the economic impacts of all fishing sectors before making fisheries allocations decisions,” the TRCP said.

The TRCP group also includes the national Costal Conservation Association, which said Rep. Pombo understands “the importance of healthy, sustainable fisheries for recreational saltwater fishing to grow and thrive.”

On the other side, Lee Crockett, the executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network — a coalition of more than 175 national and regional environmental organizations, commercial and recreational fishing groups, aquariums, and marine science groups — disagreed.

“When it comes to preventing overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish populations, U.S. Representative Richard Pombo is heading in the wrong direction,” Crockett said.

Crockett believes the bill does not include measures to hold fishermen accountable if they exceed their annual catch limits.

“Without such accountability measures, catch limits are far less effective in preventing overfishing of our marine fish in U.S. federal ocean waters,” he said.

Crockett further complains that the bill creates loopholes that would allow continued fishing for already overfished populations.

Crockett also said the bill does not ensure that members of the public have greater representation on the regional fishery management councils and he’s certainly not happy with a provision that would allow some privatization of publicly owned marine resources.

Then comes Environmental Defense, a national organization that says it has more than 400,000 members, and it says HR 5018 will weaken fish conservation, but agrees that Rep. Pombo’s bill does take positive steps to improve science in fisheries management and it authorizes limited access privilege programs, which help fishermen cut costs, improve the quality of their fish, maximize dockside prices and prevent the waste of millions of fish each year that must be discarded. It also liked Pombo removing what it believed to be “bad sanctuary provisions.”

But in the same breath Environmental Defense says that the bill will significantly roll back the current law, reducing the economic and social benefits that healthy fisheries provide. It says HR 5018 is deceptively named a marine enhancement act because it would slow the restoration of overfished species and offer less protection for “special ocean areas.”

That sounds like Environmental Defense is talking about those dreaded marine preservation zones many anti-sportfishing groups are pushing for. These are zones that can turn entire ocean stretches into “look, but don’t touch” national marine parks. In other words, no fishing of any kind would be allowed.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, check the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Web site because it includes major sport fishing and conservation groups’ views and it has information about the Magnuson-Stevens Act and what’s involved. Go to www.angling4oceans.org.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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