Congressman Barney Frank says he will call an East Coast congressional caucus within two weeks to organize what he recognizes will be an uphill battle against environmental forces to create a more equal balance between the reconstruction of fish stocks and community interests.
"We have a reasonable chance, not quite 50-50," said Frank.
But he said the effort was justified because of the unrequired harm being done to the fishing communities along the Atlantic coast by regulators who misinterpret the legal principle imbedded in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to balance ecological with economic and sociological interests.
"We're reaching out to everyone," said Bruno Freitas, Frank's chief of staff. He said U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Congressman John Tierney of Salem, who represents Gloucester, "are on board."
Frank is one of about two dozen congressmen and senators who have signed on to the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act, filed in the U.S. House by Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey. The Senate version was filed by Charles Schumer of New York.
Their effort has attracted endorsements by more than 100 recreational and commercial fishing organizations and opposition from a phalanx of environmental groups and scientists led by the Pew Environment Group.
Earlier this year, Pew organized an Internet petition against any modification of Magnuson, and filed letters from 67 smaller environmental groups and 116 scientists with Congress in support of the rebuilding deadlines required by Magnuson.
Lew Crockett, Pew's director of fisheries policy, said he understood and shared the concerns about the economic impacts of Magnuson's requirements for rebuilding the overfished stocks. But, rather than weakening the law, he favored economic relief while moving to achieve the recovery of the fisheries.
A resident of Newton whose district includes New Bedford, Frank said he was moved to try to form a winning coalition to rewrite sections of the Magnuson-Stevens Act by the recent decision of regional fishery regulators to scale back harvests from the healthy scallop stock, crown jewel of the New England fishery.