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December 23, 2010

Congress OKs opening door to higher catch limits

Congress has sent President Obama bipartisan legislation that would remove a legal hurdle that has barred federal fishery regulators from raising catch limits along the line with Canada that divides Georges Bank between the two nations.

The president is expected to sign the International Fisheries Clarification Act, which took four years to clear Congress after the idea emerged from the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition.

Vito Giacalone, policy director for the coalition, said the legislation will allow for increased catch limits on cod, haddock and most yellowtail flounder for fishermen out of Gloucester and other U.S. ports, while demonstrating that overfished stocks can be rebuilt over a longer time frame than the 10-year deadline in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The legislation was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We are pleased this legislation has passed," said NOAA Fisheries Administrator Eric Schwaab.

The primary beneficiaries are expected to be the big offshore boats that venture out for weeklong trips to Georges for yellowtail and scallops, which include a yellowtail bycatch.

Canada and the U.S. have fallen into disagreement over the catch limits on the three stocks, yellowtail, cod and haddock, jointly managed on Georges.

Unconstrained by the 10-year rebuilding schedules for overfished stocks that govern U.S. regulators, Canada has wanted higher catch limits but was constrained by the inability of their American counterparts to allow a more relaxed rebuilding time frame.

Giacalone and, in Congress, Rep. Barney Frank have questioned the wisdom of forcing overfished stocks to be rebuilt in 10-year terms, as written into the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnsuon Act by Congress under heavy pressure from hardline conservation groups.

"Whether fish recover in seven, nine or 11 years, it doesn't seem to me to be a moral issue," Frank told the Times earlier this year.

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