GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 16, 2011

Fed coalition refiles fishing rules changes

A bipartisan congressional duo has refiled legislation to instill flexibility to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is interpreted by the Obama administration to require overfished stocks to be rebuilt on a rigid, 10-year time frame.

The tight rebuilding deadlines have contributed to ultra-small allocations of stocks that have pushed many less capitalized small boat fishing businesses to the sidelines since the onset of the catch share management system within the New England groundfishery in May 2010. The Gloucester fleet alone lost 21 boats last year, lowering the number of working boats to around 75, according to an analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlined last month.

"I do not understand why in this economy the government would require rebuilding of a fish stock in 10 years even when that causes widespread economic dislocation, and when — if given a few more years — the fish stock could be rebuilt with minimal economic hardship to fishermen," said one of the bill's co-sponsors, Congressman Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican whose district includes that state's Outer Banks.

"The lack of common sense here is stunning," Jones added.

Jones' co-sponsor is Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat. Pallone was also lead sponsor of the initial Magnuson reform measure, which drew support from the Recreational Fishing Alliance as well as from the commercial industry.

Outside the Obama administration, many fisheries scientists — including marine scientist Brian Rothschild of University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and state Attorney General Martha Coakley — have argued the rigid interpretation of Magnuson arises from misreading the act and the intent of Congress.

Job loss and weakened port economies have sparked bipartisan opposition to Obama administration ocean and fisheries policies, while a powerful coalition of greens has pushed back on behalf of the administration.

NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco has conceded the 10-year rebuilding mandate has no scientific basis, but opposes changing Magnuson.

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