Bush Administration Proposes
by John Heilprin, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration proposed new guidelines Monday that it said would prevent overfishing, part of a plan for managing the nation's marine resources.
Critics say they ignore important recommendations from a presidential commission.
Tougher fines and penalties, more peer-reviewed science studies and market-based decisions are other measures that will "help us toward ending overfishing and rebuilding our fish stocks," said Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The bill describes how to reauthorize the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs the nation's ocean fisheries. Its authorization expired after 1999, though its provisions remain in effect. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, led the last reauthorization in 1996.
The legislation would guide local and regional fishery councils.
Steve Murawski, chief science adviser to the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service, said the administration didn't back the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy's recommendation that a group of scientists suggest the total number of allowable catches each year because "it would have Balkanized the process."
Murawski said the administration recognizes that good fishery management is based on peer-reviewed science, and that the government should help fishermen make better business decisions through the use of fishing quotas.
"In many cases they do not make market decisions that are in their own best interests and the long-term interests of the country because of this race to compete with each other," he said. "This 'survival of the fittest' - it generates a lot of conservation issues."
Advocacy groups such as Natural Resources Defense Council quickly denounced the bill, saying it revokes the requirement to rebuild an overfished species within 10 years and allows overfishing on some species to continue for years before legal protections kick in.
NRDC said the bill also would undermine public participation by closing off meetings and comment periods to citizens, and require only that the amount of bycatch - fish caught unintentionally - be reported "to the extent practicable."
The Marine Fish Conservation Network, another advocacy group, said the administration would be "turning back the clock on ocean protections by at least a decade."
The presidential commission that reported on ocean policy a year ago after 2 1/2 years of study had no comment Monday on the administration's proposals.
In a statement two weeks ago, the commission said that any reauthorization of the law must include a shift toward ecosystem-based management, a stronger scientific process, broader public participation and adequate funding to support fishery management and recovery.
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