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March 23, 2012

Senator pledges push for Magnuson reform

WASHINGTON — New York Sen. Charles Schumer has pledged an all-out effort to get a hearing "this year" for his legislation make clear to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that rebuilding overfished stocks need not be forced into the 10-year window mandated by Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Schumer's pledge implicitly calls out Sen. John Kerry to make good on his support for the concept of flexibility.

The first speaker at Wednesday's "Keep Fishermen Fishing" rally, which drew 21 members of Congress in a bipartisan alliance that virtually as one called for adding "flexibility" to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Schumer set the urgent tone and business-like theme of the rally event with his blunt and reasonable goal — to "begin hearings on Magnuson reform this year."

To do that, the New York Democrat — who said his "Uncle Al" introduced him to bluefishing in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay — promised to lobby "my colleagues on the Commerce Committee to put the bill up for a hearing ... because we need an open debate now."

Neither Schumer nor any of his five cosponsors, which include Sens. Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, as well Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kay Hagen of North Carolina — all of whom spoke at the rally — are members of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Indeed, the only senator at the rally who serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is Kerry. He is the senior member, wielding influence up and down and across the aisle, a fact illustrated by the cosigners on legislation he recently introduced to re-establish the principle of a half century old law — to use seafood import fees to promote the domestic fishing industry.

Along with Brown, cosponsors of Kerry's bill are Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who has announced her retirement at the end of this year. Rockefeller chairs the Commerce Committee. Neither he nor Snowe have signed onto Schumer's flexibility bill.

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