Rep. Young’s Fisheries Bill Passes House

A bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s primary fishing law, passed the U.S. House this evening, largely on party lines. The sponsor, Alaska Congressman Don Young, says the bill makes practical revisions to continue a law that has restored the health of America’s fisheries.

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“The opposition is coming from –  you know, not the fishing community. It’s coming from very frankly from the environmental community, and why they’re opposing it I don’t really know. Other than the fact that they think I’m weakening NEPA. I’m not. The Endangered Species (Act), I am not,” Young said. “This bill is originally and it always should be a sustainable yield fisheries bill for the fish and for the communities.”

Much of the debate on the House floor did concern NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. Democrats, like Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, say Young’s bill would gut the public process required under NEPA.

“Stakeholders, including businesses and individuals, would get less consideration in the council process and would not have a way of voicing their concerns and influencing the directions of plans or projects that threaten the environment or the livelihoods of these people,” she said.

Young says the same environmental review required by NEPA would still take place, but it would be part of the Council process, to avoid duplication.

Young’s bill also introduces a controversial element of flexibility in fisheries management. It would eliminate the mandatory 10-year planning period for rebuilding depleted stocks. Opponents says that allows for commercial interests to pressure managers to set harvest levels too high. Young, though, says the rebuilding time frame should vary, depending on the needs of the species.

The White House has already threatened to veto the bill. Young says the veto threat is premature, since the bill will be revised once the Senate passes its version and the two bills are renegotiated in a conference committee.