White House vow to veto fishing law changes sparks fight

  • By PATRICK WHITTLE
  • Saturday, May 30, 2015 9:29pm
  • News

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A White House pledge to veto proposed changes to federal fishing laws has divided fishermen over whether the rule changes should be saved or scrapped.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has proposed a bill to change the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to provide fishery managers with more flexibility in rebuilding fish stocks. The bill includes a provision that fishery regulators should be able to consider the “economic needs of the fishing communities” in setting annual catch limits. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, governs all fisheries in the federal waters from three to 200 miles off the U.S. coast, and authorizes eight regional fishery management councils, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that oversees fishing in the waters off the Alaska coast. It was first passed in 1976 and most recently reauthorized and amended in 2006.

The White House has said the administration “strongly opposes” the changes and President Barack Obama’s senior advisers would recommend a veto if the bill to authorize them passes.

White House officials said Young’s changes would undermine efforts to prevent overfishing and “impose arbitrary and unnecessary requirements that would harm the environment and the economy.”

The criticism has sparked heated debate among fishermen, some of whom believe the bill would give regional management councils more flexibility when they set the rules for fishermen.

Others celebrated the veto promise and said they fear Young’s bill would undo years of work to rebuild fish stocks under the current Magnuson-Stevens Act.

David Goethel, a Hampton, New Hampshire-based fisherman of species such as cod and haddock, said the threat of a veto is premature and a “very poor message” to send to fishermen who are struggling with tough catch quotas. He said Young’s proposal is “common sense in fisheries management” and deserves a hard look.

Goethel said Young’s proposal could help Northeastern regional managers rebuild cod while allowing fishermen to still seek similar species such as haddock and pollock.

“You can manage around that problem,” Goethel said. “You don’t crank down the Gulf of Maine to the point where you can’t leave the pier.”

But Charlie Witek, a West Babylon, New York, fisherman who sits on New York’s Marine Resources Advisory Council, lauded the veto call.

The president is “putting brakes on legislation that was rapidly headed in a bad direction and giving everyone some breathing space,” he said. The House of Representatives is expected to debate and possibly vote on the bill early next week. Young has defended his proposal, which he said would “streamline the management process” and continue the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks.

He added that his bill still could be altered, and the veto threat is premature. “This is a long legislative process, and it is entirely premature for the President to discuss vetoing this legislation,” Young said.

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