Oceana successfully concluded its drive to remove a provision from the omnibus appropriations bill that would have seriously jeopardized deep-sea corals and other essential fish habitat. The provision, which would have eliminated federal funding to protect essential fish habitat, was one element of a four-part rider added by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) that would undermine fishery management in Alaska. In a related triumph, House and Senate negotiators also restored the fishery management process of the Magnuson Stevens Act, allowing the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to allocate the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands pollock fishery as it deems fit.
“Today’s actions represent a significant victory for our oceans,” said Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless. “Oceana, our environmental allies, and thousands of concerned citizens strongly opposed this provision. Forcing such significant changes to a funding bill of this magnitude is a testament to their dedicated efforts to educate legislators about this important ocean conservation issue.”
“We praise the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and the Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle who fought to allow existing ocean research and science programs to continue,” said Oceana’s Vice President of North American Oceans, Jay Nelson. “We are very pleased that Senator Ted Stevens has decided to eliminate these provisions and instead continue what he started more than 25 years ago when he authored one of the most progressive fishing laws in the world.”
In addition to conservation groups, the rider was opposed by several prominent sport fish groups. Said Nelson, “we appreciate the work by the National Environmental Trust, The Marine Fish Conservation Network and other groups who fought with us. Thanks largely to the overwhelming pressure from ocean supporters, ocean groups and more than 20 newspapers nationwide, Congress learned that the public cares about this issue.”
Jim Ayers, Oceana’s Director for the Pacific lauded Congressional resolve, “Ultimately we’re talking about sustainable existence. We can maintain vibrant fisheries while still protecting habitat. It is not easy, and there are no shortcuts. That is what the Magnuson-Stevens Act is all about.”
Oceana Cautions Against Other Harmful Legislation in Bill
Disappointingly, two of the rider’s remaining three Alaska provisions remain largely in tact. One would require independent fishermen to sell 90 percent of their crab catch to certain processing companies, while the other rewards and legalizes past dirty fishing practices and promotes a destructive rockfish fishery in the Gulf of Alaska.
Another disturbing addition to the bill was a rider by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) that would undermine a recent decision by the New England Fishery Management Council to establish new regulations required to prevent overfishing and re-build overfished populations of groundfish in North Atlantic waters. The majority of New England’s groundfish stocks are at unsustainably low levels and nearly half are being fished at exceedingly high rates. Any further delay in rebuilding New England’s groundfish populations would set a destructive precedent for Congressional micro-management of complex federal fishery rules.