House Resources Committee Guts Law to Protect Ocean
Statement by Ted Morton, Federal Policy Director
Press Release Date: August 11, 2002
The House Resources Committee today took a giant step backwards gutting the nation’s primary ocean fish conservation and management law. Rather than rebuilding our crucial ocean food supply, the Committee passed H.R. 4749, renewal of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which would put fish populations, marine wildlife, and the oceans themselves at even greater risk. The full House of Representatives should oppose this bill. The bill, introduced by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), rolls back key parts of the law that require government fishery managers to prevent overfishing, protect areas of ocean habitat that are essential for fish, and minimize wasteful catch and killing of non-targeted fish, birds, and other ocean life (called bycatch). It fails to authorize adequate funding to properly manage our nation’s fisheries. It does not establish a national scientific observer program to help improve fishery data collection. It lacks new provisions to ban the worst of the bottom trawling gear that is destroying the ocean floor.
H.R. 4749 weakens current law at a time when it must be strengthened, to protect the viability of fish populations, our food supply, and coastal economies.Years of overfishing, habitat loss, and mismanagement have led to collapsing fish populations, including cod in New England, rockfish along the Pacific Coast, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, and white marlin along the Atlantic Coast. The population of cod in New England is 20 percent of it what is was in 1960. Last year, the American Fisheries Society reported that 31 fish species were at risk of extinction. Because of severely depleted groundfish species, huge fishing areas along the entire Pacific coast will be closed for decades.
Today the Committee defeated an amendment offered by Representative Joel Hefley (R-Colorado) to restrict the use of heavy fishing gear, called rockhoppers and rollergear, which crushes deep sea corals, rocky reefs, and boulder areas. Fish and other ocean wildlife rely on these areas for sheltering, feeding, and breeding grounds. The House should support the Hefley Ocean Bottom Protection Act and Representative Sam Farr’s (D-California) Fisheries Recovery Act.> Unless H.R. 4749 is changed on the floor of the House of Representatives, our children will ask in the years to come: “where have all the fish gone?”