Agency Proposes Changes in Fishing Rules WASHINGTON — New guidelines aimed at preventing overfishing were proposed Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The proposal is designed to guide the local and regional fishery councils that set the rules to prevent overfishing and help rebuild fish stocks in various parts of the country ranging from New England to the Gulf Coast and Pacific Ocean.
The proposal, which will be open to public comment until Aug. 22 before being finalized, drew prompt criticism from conservationists who contend the changes would weaken fish protections.
“These safeguards are in place for a reason and they should not be watered down,” said Matt Rand of Conserve Our Ocean Legacy.
Federal officials said the changes would strengthen the ability to protect fish stocks.
Bill Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries Service, said, “The new guidelines will result in more immediate benefits to marine ecosystems while maintaining a reasonable amount of flexibility to address the needs of fishing communities.”
Among the proposed changes:
_Fishery councils would end overfishing within the first year of a rebuilding plan, except under certain conditions specified by law in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Current rules don’t specify how soon overfishing must be halted.
_A target catch for a species would be set at less than the maximum sustainable yield. Currently, councils can set an optimum yield anywhere within the range between optimum and maximum yields, even equal to the maximum sustainable yield.
_The target time to rebuild a fish stock would be changed. The rules now set a target of 10 years when feasible. Under the new rules, if a fishery could rebuild in five years with no fishing, and that species takes an average of six years to mature, the new guidelines would set the maximum time to rebuild at five plus six, or eleven years. Then the target time would be set midway between the calculated minimum and maximum times to rebuild, or eight years.
_Under the new rules, rebuilding plans would remain in effect until the stock is rebuilt. Current rules don’t say what should be done if the plan reaches its end and the stock has not been rebuilt.
_The term “overfished” would be replaced with “depleted” to reflect that fish population declines are not wholly dependent on fishing.
On the Net:
National Marine Fisheries Service: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
The Associated Press