Fisheries' management called failure

Friday, March 10, 2000
By Associated Press

Management of fisheries in the United States has been an expensive flop for much of the last decade, a nationwide coalition of environmentalists and fishermen's groups said Thursday.

Ineffective policies have led to depleted stocks on both coasts, prompting the federal government to spend $160 million since 1994 on disaster relief for fishermen, according to the Marine Fish Conservation Network.

Congress now is considering another $421 million for programs including boat buybacks and job training programs for fishermen affected by the collapse of stocks of crab, salmon and groundfish.

"We are not criticizing giving money to fishermen to help them weather disasters, but we are criticizing the management that led to the disasters," said Lee Crockett, executive director of the Conservation Network, a 19-member organization including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Fish Forever and the National Audubon Society.

The fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest has received the most disaster relief since 1994, due to declines in the salmon harvest. Last year, the Bering Sea crab fishery in Alaska collapsed, which the coalition said was the result of lack of action by government officials to prevent overfishing, habitat destruction and "bycatch" the unintentional harvest of non-target fish.

Crockett said regional fishery management councils, made up of industry representatives, scientists and state government officials who formulate plans for managing fisheries, are to blame for the problems. The councils have failed to enforce existing regulations, which has led to overfishing and closures of fishing areas, he said.

The coalition also says the National Marine Fisheries Service which has final say on regional plans has provided poor oversight. The groups noted that last year the agency acknowledged it did not know the status of nearly 75 percent of the nation's managed fish stock.

New England Regional Fishery Management Council spokeswoman Patricia Fiorelli said "there's certainly room from improvement, no argument there." But she defended the councils.

"It's always a balancing act trying to put in conservation measures and balance it against how it's going to impact communities," she said.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Maryland, sponsored 1996 legislation that set criteria for determining when a fishery is overfished and how those areas should be revitalized. Gilchrest said the bill did not go far enough. So, he is sponsoring a coalition-backed measure this year that seeks to "err on the side of conservation."

Under that proposal, councils would be required to take entire marine ecosystems into account when granting permits and to ensure new fishing gear or practices would not hurt habitats.

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