New fishing rules under development will have an impact on anyone who dips a line or a net in U.S. waters - from an Alaska commercial fisherman to a competitor in a Hawaiian billfish tournament.
But the effort to revise those rules has been slow as they are being picked over by special interests, politicians and regulators. And the recent stinging report by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy has forced state and federal regulators to re-evaluate their goals for protecting marine resources.
The report said America's oceans and shores are in a state of crisis. Fish populations and large swaths of coastal waters have been devastated by overfishing, pollution, human encroachment, environmental mismanagement and a haphazard approach to regulation, the report said.
"There's been a lot of water under the bridge," Jack Dunnigan, a top fisheries regulator, said Tuesday after summing up the bumpy road to the new rules.
He spoke on the first day of a three-day meeting in Juneau of the 27-member Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, which advises the secretary of commerce on major marine fishery issues. The committee is a national body composed of fishing industry representatives, processors, academics, regulators and conservationists.
Dunnigan and other regulators informed the committee about potential future changes to major fishing programs, such as individual fishing quotas and recreational fishing programs, as well as the overarching effort to reauthorize the nation's primary fish legislation - the MagnusonStevens Act of 1976.
NOAA Fisheries wants the committee to comment on the act before a reauthorization bill is introduced on Capitol Hill, Dunnigan said.
Today the committee will discuss offshore aquaculture, another major National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration initiative that concerns many fishermen and state officials in Alaska.
Gov. Frank Murkowski has called for a five-year moratorium on offshore aquaculture in federal waters until more research is
completed on environmental and economic consequences.
On Tuesday, the committee mainly debated IFQ proposals and the recreational fishing program.
Members of the committee and the audience had numerous comments on the IFQ and recreational programs. Some of their concerns included:
Worries about a proposal that would allow NOAA to collect fees from commercial fishermen for managing the IFQ programs.
Questions about how much say fishermen and fishing communities should have in determining how permits should be allocated at the outset of a new IFQ program, and whether IFQ permits should be sold in auctions.
Concerns about whether Native interests are represented adequately in recreational planning.
Questions about how to begin a saltwater recreational permitting program in Hawaii, where there is intense local opposition.
Regarding possible fees for IFQ fisheries, committee member Ralph Rayburn said he feels that IFQ fishermen should be treated the same way as aquaculture companies by paying for their exclusive right to harvest marine species.
Others worried that fees could have a chilling effect on participation in IFQ fisheries.
Stephanie Madsen, Juneaubased chairwoman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, told the Empire she hopes the development of new rules won't undermine the power now held by the regional councils.
The North Pacific council sets quotas and rules for fisheries in U.S. waters off Alaska's coast.
"We like to have flexibility," Madsen said.
Madsen said she is also interested in how NOAA Fisheries will administer its IFQ programs. For example, she wants to make sure the programs aren't opened to people who do not fish in the affected communities.
"We don't like absentee ownership," she said.