Fishing Industry, Citizens Tell NMFS to Throw Back Proposal, Try Again

The Pew Environment Group on Tuesday said it had joined 80 congressional leaders, hundreds of scientists and environmental and fishing organizations, and nearly 200,000 members of the general public in urging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to rewrite its proposed fisheries rule that would undercut the nation's bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NMFS published its proposed rule on May 14, 2008, in the Federal Register. The 90-day public comment period closed yesterday. Pew said the many public comments the administration received supported the need for a strong NEPA rule to protect America's marine fisheries.

"Our oceans are under assault from global warming, pollution and industrial-scale fishing, yet NMFS has proposed weakening the one law that protects entire ecosystems," said Lee Crockett, director of federal fisheries policy for the Pew Environment Group. "This NEPA proposal isn't just bad for our oceans, it's also bad for the fishermen who depend on them for their livelihood."

According to Pew, NMFS's proposal, as written, vests too much authority in the fishery management councils while limiting the public's ability to participate in the environmental review process. It also provides too little guidance on how NEPA can be used to evaluate and minimize fishing's impacts on marine ecosystems. Pew cited a landmark study published in the journal Science on Nov. 3, 2006, by an international group of ecologists and economists, concluding that if we do not protect our ocean ecosystems, commercial fishing will not survive past the middle of this century.

Eighty members of Congress, including five House committee chairs, signed letters to NMFS calling on the administration to craft a proposal that protects, rather than threatens ocean ecosystems. In addition, 79 leading scientists and 160 environmental organizations and commercial and recreational fishing associations signed a similar letter, also urging NMFS to protect the nation's ocean environment. To read the letters, go to www.endoverfishing.org.

"NEPA has played an important role in protecting critical habitats for ocean fish," Crockett said. "To cripple the use of this fundamental law would be a huge step backward for ocean conservation and U.S. fishermen. If NEPA is undermined, fishermen will suffer yet another blow to their ability to make a living."

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