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Legislation to avert fishing closures gathers support

With a Dec. 31 deadline looming, support is surging for legislation to ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service uses sound science to set catch limits for the nation’s fisheries.

A Senate version of the Fishery Science Improvement Act was introduced late Monday by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires Regional Fishery Management Councils to put in place annual catch limits for every fishery by Dec. 31. The requirements were intended to end overfishing by 2011 but were predicated on two critical assumptions: catch limit decisions would be based on up-to-date and accurate stock assessments; and there would be improved catch data to better anticipate potential problems in a given fishery. Neither of these obligations has been met.

“Fishery management decisions should be based on sound science,” Sen. Nelson said. “This legislation will ensure that science is a priority.”

The bill has backing from a broad coalition of fishing, boating and industry groups that see a critical need for federal managers to avoid an unacceptable situation in which arbitrary deadlines are being allowed to trump the essential need for science-based management of our marine resources.