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May 8, 2013

Fish panels all back Magnuson flexibility

All eight of the nation’s regional fishery management councils, the grassroots panels that work with NOAA in fishery management and on regulatory rules, put themselves on record Tuesday in favor of Congress’ writing flexibility for rebuilding timelines for overfished stocks in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The positioning of the councils on what has become a climactic issue with Magnuson, the overarching federal law guiding NOAA’s administration of America’s fisheries, was easy to overlook in the opening of the three-day Managing our Nation’s Fisheries Conference, which serves as a download of papers and opinions for Congress as it builds momentum toward rewriting one of the nation’s enormously expansive laws, already recast and amended three times since its 1976 inception.

But today, the conference holds a working session on “Rebuilding Program Requirements and Timelines” that will have the luxury of drilling deeply into this complex issue.

That’s when Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest industry group which has long opposed deadline-driven timelines for stocks being rebuilt, presents a paper that argues that it shouldn’t matter “how long it takes to get there,” she said in a telephone interview from the Mayflower Renaissance Washington hotel, which is hosting the conference.

Fierce opposition to giving NOAA flexibility in writing rebuilding plans has come from the Pew Environment Group, which is a lead financial sponsor of the conference and a subdivision of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which have poured tens of millions of dollars into fisheries management and other related issues.

It was Pew Enviromental Group that organized a lobbying campaign in 2010 against a bill filed by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, that proved a main focal point for a national fishermen’s rally at the U.S. Capitol. A similar rally took place in 2011, but so far Congress has not moved legislation to modify Magnuson.

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