Ocean conservationists with Oceana expressed disappointment today in the end of session negotiations that resulted in a piece of legislation that is over 200 pages long, yet makes mostly incremental changes-some for the better, some for the worse-to the existing Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that governs America's fisheries.
"This was a once in a decade opportunity. Two recent commissions and the scientific community agree-our oceans are in danger and we don't have much time to save them. Unfortunately, at a time when bold action is needed to manage our oceans as ecosystems and not just for money fish, this legislation takes only a few steps forward, and even makes some changes for the worse," said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, Oceana's Chief Scientist and Senior Vice-President for North America.
"Senator Stevens has again demonstrated his uncanny ability to make snowballs out of fog by passing this legislation. Senators Stevens and Inouye began this process working closely with their Senate colleagues and developed a bill that was a good step in the right direction. Unfortunately, in the flurry of activity at the close of this Congress, changes have been made that actually weaken that legislation, not strengthen it," said Jim Ayers, Pacific Vice President of Oceana. "As a result, this legislation seems to be more about who gets to catch the fish in the ocean, not about how we can make sure that there will always be enough fish for them to catch."
"One bright spot in the legislation is its call for research and protection of deep-sea corals and sponges from destructive fishing gear," said Director of Oceana's Campaign to Stop Destructive Trawling. "The Magnuson-Stevens Act has made it clear that fisheries management councils have all the authority they need to protect these valuable and vulnerable forms of ocean life. Now it is up to them to stop their destruction."
Other improvements over current law include provisions to address overfishing, greater responsibility for scientists in setting catch limits and a new emphasis on international issues.
However, the bill weakens the role of the public in managing its marine resources by raising barriers to access to data. It also tries and fails to solve a problem that did not exist with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Finally, it advances policies to privatize our fisheries without mandating conservation standards to protect the public's interest in maintaining healthy oceans.
Ayers added, "We look forward to working with the 110th Congress and Senator Stevens to forge necessary ocean conservation legislation to ensure that future generations enjoy America's oceans as much as previous generations have."