Tuesday, September 20, 2005

ENV: The Admin: Garbage in, garbage out . . . II

Rule Changes Are Proposed for Fisheries
By FELICITY BARRINGER, The New York Times, September 20, 2005

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 - The Bush administration on Monday proposed using market-based incentives to govern saltwater fishing in certain areas, a tradable ticket to fish designed to impose order in waters prone to overfishing.

Some environmental groups criticized the proposal, which would reauthorize the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens fisheries conservation act, saying the administration was backpedaling on existing protections against overfishing. The practice has long plagued some of the best-known fish stocks.

Under the Bush proposal, rights to the total allowable catch in an area would be divided among commercial interests. These rights could then be sold or traded among the businesses as long as the total limit was not exceeded.

The proposal would also replace regular assessments of fish populations with ones done at the discretion of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Susan Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the legislation provided "a hard deadline" to end clearly identified overfishing within two years.

In press releases and interviews, officials said the legislation would improve data collection and the science that underpins decisions on restricting access to a depleted fishery.

Ted Morton, the federal policy director at Oceana, an environmental group, said: "We're deeply disappointed in the bill. We think that the administration missed a golden opportunity to really improve our fishery management system and just took steps to significantly weaken key provisions of the law."

Mr. Morton added that "it looks like it allows fishery management councils to take more time to end the practices" that deplete fish stocks and "to stretch things out before any on-the-water action might occur."

Ms. Buchanan responded that environmental groups' analysis of the current law was flawed in that it incorrectly assumed that overfishing could be halted immediately. The new language, she said, would provide quicker cures for fisheries in trouble.

Steven A. Murawski, director of scientific programs for the national fisheries service, said 38 of 252 major stocks were depleted by overfishing. Among them, he said, were cod and yellow-tailed flounder in New England, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and rockfish on the Pacific coast.

"I accept the idea that people are saying two years is too long," Mr. Murawski said. "But in many stocks overfishing is chronic" and has not been stopped by the current requirements of periodic assessments.

John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, said a limited distribution of fishing rights would "allow fishermen to fish more safely and rationally."

It would end the "rush to fish" that has contributed to the depletion of some resources, Mr. Connelly said.