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December 12, 2006 > Fisheries bill passes in Congress

Fisheries bill passes in Congress

by Matthew Daly

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President George W. Bush said Saturday the country is committed to ensuring strong commercial and recreational fishing, praising legislation that overhauls management of marine fisheries and strengthens protections against further depleting dwindling stocks.

The measure, passed early, Saturday requires the use of annual catch limits and enhances the authority of eight regional fishery management councils. The bill reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act through 2013. The 30-year-old law is the main law guiding fishery management in waters between three miles and 200 miles (320 kilometers) offshore.

“This bill embraces my priorities of ending overfishing and rebuilding our nation's fish stocks through more effective, market-based management and tougher enforcement,” Bush said in a statement Saturday. He said the measure offers stronger tools “to achieve progress internationally to ensure healthy fish stocks, promote better management, and halt destructive fishing practices based on sound science.”

Supporters said the bill would strengthen current law by requiring an end to overfishing, science-based management of U.S. fisheries and penalties for illegal fishing in international waters. “Our oceans are in serious trouble and this legislation will help to reverse their decline,” said Sarah Chasis, director of the Oceans Initiative for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She and other environmentalists hailed a provision that sets overall limits on the number of fish that can be caught, while allowing fishermen flexibility in how they divide up shares of the total catch.

Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who heads the subcommittee that oversees the nation's fisheries, said the bill would provide an economic lifeline to fishermen while ensuring a secure supply of fish. “This legislation is not a perfect solution, but I believe we have struck an appropriate balance between preserving the marine resources of our coastal communities with these fisheries management tools,” she said.

Bush said the U.S. “is committed to maintaining our thriving commercial and recreational fishing communities.” At the insistence of West Coast lawmakers, the bill includes language to speed recovery of Klamath River salmon stocks in California and Oregon. For fishermen adversely affected by recent closures aimed at protecting threatened fish, there would be disaster relief programs.

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