Calling for an end to overfishing and a doubling of the nation's quota-based fisheries by 2010, the Bush administration rolled out a proposal to revise the nation's primary federal fisheries law on Monday.
National and Alaska environmental groups said the administration's proposal to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act includes serious rollbacks, such as eroding current federal measures to prevent overfishing and bycatch of untargeted species.
"This bill doesn't come close to containing the standards we need to promote conservation and protect individual fishing families," said Dorothy Childers, program director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, based in Anchorage.
Some fishing organizations in Alaska did not provide immediate comment on the bill Monday. "It will be a lengthy process with input from fishing groups around the nation," said Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA). The UFA board will discuss the bill at its October meeting, he said.
The bill has some differences and similarities with a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee discussion draft version, which has circulated around the country since early August. The committee, presided over by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will host hearings on the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization. The act bears the senator's name because of his prior heavy involvement in the legislation.
One difference between the bills is that the Commerce Committee draft contains detailed language allowing seafood processors to obtain quota shares within federally managed fisheries.
Some critics, including state Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, have likened that practice to sharecropping.
A similarity between the bills is their steeper penalties for federal fisheries violations. For example, fines for criminal penalties of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act would be quadrupled.
Neither bill includes specific mandates for ecosystem-based management, said Stephanie Madsen, Juneau-based chairwoman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Ecosystem-based management is a developing method of regulating fisheries in the context of their biological linkage with other marine species.
"Quite frankly, the council chairs feel that we have all the tools we need" to use ecosystem-based management, Madsen said.
One of the environmentalists' complaints about the new legislation is that it would allow fishermen a two-year grace period in which they could continue to harvest overfished or depleted stocks, instead of forcing them to stop fishing those stocks immediately, as currently required.
The National Marine Fisheries Service published a fact sheet Monday stating that the Bush administration had set a "hard deadline" for ending overfishing in its bill.
But the two-year grace period "means you could continue to hammer the hell out of them," said Jim Ayers, Pacific region director for Oceana, an international environmental group.
State and national groups said they are worried that the new legislation's standards for quota-based fisheries are too loose and will lead to greater consolidation and less opportunity for Alaska fishermen.
The administration's bill "does not prevent large corporations from holding fishing quota and leasing it back to sharecropper fishermen," Childers said.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will conduct a nationwide teleconference about the bill today at 7:30 a.m.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.