With economic pain spreading — from a downsizing New England fishing fleet to the continued depression of the New Jersey recreational industry from superstorm Sandy — fishing industry advocates are pressing for changes to the federal fisheries law and environmental groups are fighting to keep reforms they won years ago.
Congress will be moving toward reauthorizing the 1996 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a reform measure that aimed to end decades of overfishing in American waters, and by many measures has succeeded. But it’s come at a stiff economic price in some regions, with fewer recreational fishermen paying to catch fewer fish and commercial crews fishing fewer days.
Amendments to the law proposed by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, would give those economic factors a bigger role in government management and decision making, allowing easing the timelines for rebuilding depleted fish stocks.
Doing that “would waste years of effort ... all in the name of short-term economics,” warned George Geiger, a Florida charter fishing captain and longtime member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, in a Friday telephone news conference organized by the Pew Environmental Trust.
The Philadelphia-based Pew foundation has been a major financial backer of efforts to change fisheries management, and it’s made the group a nemesis of both the commercial and recreational fishing sectors. Those fishing advocates have been getting more political traction — their allies in Congress recently won a modest $75 million fishery disaster-aid package in the new federal budget — and they hope a hearing in Washington Tuesday will help their cause of liberalizing fishing rules.