The House voted to open up U.S. fisheries to more commercial and sport fishing on Wednesday.
The House passed the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act by a 222-193 vote.
The bill would open up U.S. coastal waters to more fishing by reducing “unscientific” conservation limits and quotas on the amount of fish caught annually.
The bill introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Ala., reauthorizes, while modernizing, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters.
The bill provides greater regional flexibility, tailored management practices, and improved data collection for all U.S. federal fisheries off the coasts of most ocean-adjoining states.
The bill “eliminates unscientific timeframes to rebuild fish stocks,” which “unnecessarily restrict access to fisheries,” according to a summary of the bill.
In addition, it provides flexibility for fishery managers to apply new management strategies that are “better suited to regional needs and specific fish stocks.”
Under the previous administration, the fishing season for a particular species of fish could be cut in half based on catch limits, which could force fisherman to close operations for the season early, or switch gear to go after another species of fish.
The bill would look to regulate the limits based on better measures, while granting more flexibility during the fishing season for a particular species, such as red snapper or sea bass.
A fact sheet, citing Commerce Department statistics, points out that the U.S. is not keeping up with its own domestic demand for seafood. “At the same time that the U.S. has an abundance of fish in coastal waters,” the country is importing up to 90 percent of seafood consumed on its shores.
“Without the key revisions [included in the bill] our fishermen’s access to fish is inhibited due to the use of outdated, arbitrary scientific practices and data and therefore the American people’s access to affordable domestic fish is limited.”
But some groups don’t see it that way.
“In passing H.R. 200, the U.S. House of Representatives just dealt a significant blow to fishermen and businesses that depend on healthy fisheries,” said Meredith Moore, director of the fish conservation at the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group.
“The House has chosen to create loopholes in the law, water down legal standards and decrease accountability,” she said. “After years of progress, this bill could return us to the days of failing ports and crashing fish populations.”
She said the annual catch limits and rebuilding plans are designed to “work together to stabilize businesses and coastal communities hurt by decades of overfishing.” But the bill passed Wednesday would erode the nation’s fisheries by allowing fish stocks to dwindle “by removing science-based sustainable limits on catch from potentially hundreds of species,” said Moore.