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Federal Fisheries Bill Has Advanced, Despite Opposition From Scientists, Chefs and Seafood Producers

Dave Martin
AP Photo
Fresh red snapper is iced and ready for sale in Alabama. New rules for catching the prized fish in the Gulf of Mexico have anglers at odds with one another across that region, fueling proposed changes to federal fisheries management.

Legislation is moving through the U.S. House that would weaken how fisheries are managed. That has several groups calling foul, including scientists, seafood producers and chefs, many of them in the Northwest.

Two bills, H.R. 200 and H.R.3588,  would revise and reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which was first passed in 1976 to prevent overfishing and rebuild over-fished stocks. It did so by establishing regional management councils that can set quotas and other policies to ensure sustainability.

The legislation would take many of those tools off the table, says Shems Jud, West Coast Fisheries Director with the Environmental Defense Fund. He says it eliminates annual catch limits on a number of fisheries and also gets rid of deadlines that protect vulnerable species.

“You know the longer a stock is over fished, it’s at risk for environmental or other considerations. And the fact of the matter is that fishermen really can’t take advantage of and benefit from a rebuilt stock, if it stays in that over-fished status,” Jud said.  

This year alone, three species on the west coast (of rockfish andperch) have been sufficiently restored to reopen for harvest, thanks to regulations in the Magnusson-Stevens Act.

A coalition that includes the National Restaurant Association and four prominent Seattle chefs is opposing the new fisheries legislation. But some recreational fishing groups, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and commercial seafood producers, primarily on the East Coast are unhappy with current rules. The legislation also has provisions that would weaken the Endangered Species Act and the Antiquities Act, which may be another reason why it is getting support from some House Republicans. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to