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Fishy Business Going On In Congress

Pacific lingcod isn’t really a cod, but its white, flakey cod-like meat is popular with chefs. In 1999, lingcod and seven other groundfish species were declared overfished, and the Pacific Fishery Management Council and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries implemented catch restrictions. By 2005, stocks of lingcod were declared rebuilt several years ahead of schedule, according to Ted Morton of Pew Charitable Trusts. Morton says lingcod is an example of one of the successes under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, but the environmental protections in that act are under fire from a proposed bill by Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings.

The bipartisan Magnuson-Stevens Act was first established in 1976 and has been periodically reauthorized. It is currently expired and up for reauthorization, a process that could take several years. In the meantime Congressman Peter DeFazio says it operates under a continuing resolution. DeFazio, who hosted a listening session on Magnuson-Stevens in Coos Bay Jan. 23, says the act, which regulates fisheries 3 to 200 miles offshore, is “tremendously important to Oregonians” as it affects those who eat seafood, commercial fishing economies, recreational fishers and those who care about ocean habitat. Before the Magnuson-Stevens Act, “it was like the Wild West out there.”

DeFazio says he had hoped to work on a bill on a bipartisan basis, but Hastings, who is chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced his own Republican bill. That bill would really make decisions on stock rebuilding and meaningful limits on overfishing political, not scientific, DeFazio says. He says the act has room for improvement, and he hopes to develop a “meaningful Democratic alternative.”

Pew says the Hastings bill, which is up for a hearing in the House Feb. 4, would also reduce the public’s access to fisheries data, including data collected with taxpayer dollars, exempt fishery management from broader environmental review and result in overfishing.

This story has been updated