House votes to overhaul fishery management law

House votes to overhaul fishery management law
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The House on Wednesday passed controversial legislation that aims to overhaul how the federal government manages the nation’s fisheries.

The measure would make significant changes to a 1976 law that’s been credited with boosting fish stocks through restrictions on overfishing, among other successes.

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The GOP-backed bill would give more authority to local fishery councils to set fishing standards such as limits and seasons. It would allow for longer timelines for species recovery, or no timelines at all in some circumstances, and let fishery councils use alternative standards for measuring the health of a fishery.

The legislation, which passed in a 222-193 vote, is supported by recreational fishing groups and opposed by conservationists and major commercial fishing organizations who argue that it would threaten sustainable fishing practices that have helped revitalize many important species.

“I’m proud to say that my bill protects our commercial and recreational fisheries’ interests and allow councils to do their jobs in a more streamlined and effective manner,” Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungEx-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Congress: Pass legislation that invests in America's water future Bipartisan group introduces legislation to protect federal workers' health benefits during shutdowns MORE (R-Alaska), the bill’s sponsor, said on the House floor.

“This legislation is written for fishermen, to ensure that they are able to catch sustainable yields of fish for the communities,” he added. “It is critical for the protection of coastal communities and for allowing the stakeholders to be part of the management of fisheries.”

While Republicans applauded the success of the existing law, they also said it is time to add more “flexibility” for local officials, and argued the bill wouldn't threaten fisheries.

“By providing greater flexibility to fishery managers, we can allow for better management strategies that reflect regional needs and demands,” said Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland House panel votes to restrict possible changes to Air Force One design MORE (R-Ala.). “We should empower people who live and work in the local communities, instead of letting bureaucrats in Washington decide what works best.”

But to Democrats, the bill represents a serious threat to fish and the communities that rely on them.

Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee’s water, power and oceans subpanel, said the measure “would roll back the important conservation and management standards that have helped us get to this point, that have helped end overfishing and have helped rebuild a record number of fish stock.”

Rep. Chellie PingreeRochelle (Chellie) PingreeFederal employees turn their backs on Agriculture secretary after relocation plans announced Federal employees turn their backs on Agriculture secretary after relocation plans announced Congress should make Interior's Bernhardt 'manage the land to stop climate change' MORE (D-Maine) said the bill would be a big step backward.

“It weakens rebuilding requirements, creates loopholes in some conservation efforts and has the effect of decreasing accountability that has been put into place to prevent overfishing,” she said, adding that it “undoes the efforts that have been proven to work, while failing to address some significant challenges in our fisheries.”

The legislation also split fishing industries, with most recreational fishing interests supporting it and many commercial interests--especially those in around the Gulf Coast--voicing their opposition.

Mike Leonard, conservation director of the American Sportfishing Association, said "no legislations is perfect," but "on the whole we look at having really good recreational improvements in it."

Leonard said his group, which backs the manufacturers and retailers that largely sell to recreational fishers, thinks the law is implemented in "too rigid" a fashion and lawmakers should look at alternative ways to regulate recreational fisherman.

Seafood Harvesters of America, meanwhile, said in a letter to House leaders that the bill “would do very little to improve the management of the recreational fishing industry while severely undermining the sacrifices the commercial fishing industry has made to ensure that we are sustainably harvesting fisheries resources.”

Miranda Green contributed.