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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

National Fishing Act Renewed

Air Date: Week of

Jennifer Schmidt of KPLU, in Seattle reports on new policies to reduce overfishing and to preserve underwater habitat which Congress recently approved in reauthorizing the nation's primary fisheries law.


CURWOOD: Swordfish, tuna, and cod are just 3 of the hundreds of fish that will receive more protection under legislation just passed by Congress. New policies to reduce over-fishing and to preserve underwater habitat are included in the reauthorization of the Magnuson Act, the nation's most important fisheries law. From Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU has details.

(Man: "Get your halibut, folks! It's going out folks! Halibut season's in!")

SCHMIDT: Crowds are common at Seattle's fish markets, where people often stand in line to pick up fresh halibut and salmon. In the United States commercial fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry, and demand for fish is expected to grow. But Suzanne Uticello of the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington, DC, says unless there are big changes in the way commercial fisheries are managed, more and more fishermen are going to be pulling up empty nets.

UTICELLO: Some stocks are so severely depleted that there are questions about whether they will ever come back again in the numbers or in the sizes that we once knew.

SCHMIDT: Still Uticello and other environmentalists say the bleak state of America's fisheries is likely to improve, now that Congress has made changes to the Magnusson Act, which regulates fishing in US waters. The legislation contains a number of precedent-setting conservation provisions. It requires steps to reduce the large number of fish caught and killed every year by accident. And it sets strict catch limits to prevent another over-fishing crisis like the one that's devastated stocks and put fishermen out of work in New England.

UTICELLO: I think from a conservation point of view, it was definitely a victory. The Congress has now said we recognize what over-fishing is, and we're going to take the steps needed to rebuild our depleted fisheries.

SCHMIDT: Environmentalists aren't the only ones to favor these conservation measures. The legislation has also received an unusual degree of support from commercial fishermen.

( Boat horn)

SCHMIDT: At Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle, Bob Alverson checks out the halibut boats operated by members of his Fishing Vessel Owners Association.

ALVERSON: This is one of our boats over in the shipyard, Eclipse. It was built in the 1920s...

SCHMIDT: Mr. Alverson applauds the crackdown on over-fishing and waste. He says such efforts will help keep stocks healthy. He also favors a new requirement to protect marine habitat, and Mr. Alverson's counting on the legislation to force trawl fishermen, who harvest by dragging their nets along the ocean floor, to clean up their act.

ALVERSON: We have frankly been at odds with that type of mobile gear that is hard on bottom. And in Alaska those cold water corals take up to 50 years to grow up to 2 feet tall. And sooner or later, if you destroy the habitat you're out of business anyway.

SCHMIDT: But there are critics. Greenpeace analyst Fred Munson, while praising many of the bill's conservation milestones, says it's based on a flawed premise that fish are little more than a commodity.

MUNSON: We've got to start looking at managing fisheries for the health of the ecosystem. The ecosystem is what supports these fisheries and the communities that depend on them. Right now we just manage fish like it's bushels of corn.

SCHMIDT: The new bill also leaves many long-standing battles unresolved, including a bitter dispute over how to divvy up the lucrative offshore harvest. Still, there seems to be broad consensus that when it comes to protecting America's fisheries, the Magnusen Act is a good first step. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.



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