GOP-Controlled House Passes Bill to Eviscerate Nation's Marine Ecosystems, Fisheries

Conservations, scientists, and members of fishing communities and industry expressed outrage and disappointment after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that experts warn will set the nation’s fishing industry back decades by eviscerating protections that have made U.S. fisheries more sustainable and undermining the health of marine ecosystems as well as the communities that live off the ocean.

With a final vote of 222 to 193, the bill known as H.R. 200—officially titled the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act—was passed along party lines, with just nine Democrats voting in favor and just 15 Republicans voting against. See the full rollcall vote here.

“Recovering depleted fisheries under H.R. 200 would be like fishing for sardines with a whale-sized hole in the net.”
—Martin Hayden, EarthJustice

The problem with the legislation, say people like Martin Hayden, vice president for policy and legislation at Earthjustice, is that the bill does the very opposite of what its name suggests.

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“Recovering depleted fisheries under H.R. 200 would be like fishing for sardines with a whale-sized hole in the net,” Hayden warned. If the bill becomes law, he added, it “would reverse decades of bipartisan progress towards preventing overfishing and rebuilding fish populations, harming the health of our marine ecosystems and the coastal communities who depend on them.”

The GOP-controlled House passed the bill despite letters (pdf) of opposition from over 500 U.S. businesses and individuals, including 14 restaurant and seafood companies, 12 aquariums, over 350 chefs, 200 scientists, over 50 dive shops, and multiple recreational fishing groups.

Rather than “strengthening” the existing law known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), which governs much of the ways in which the nation’s fisheries are managed, opponents warn that H.R. 200 is designed to gut the hard-won progress and marine life protections achieved by conservationists and fishing communities since the mid-1970s.

“In the last 40 years,” said Whitney Webber, campaign director for the conservation group Oceana, following Wednesday’s vote, “the Magnuson-Stevens Act has helped the United States become a global leader in fisheries management. Yet, with today’s vote, Congress has allowed special interests to trump science, leaving future generations of fishermen, seafood consumers and ocean enthusiasts to pay the price.”

The MSA, she added, “has succeeded in reversing overfishing and bringing back fisheries abundance in the U.S. However, H.R. 200 would undo the significant progress we’ve made over the past several decades for the health of America’s fisheries and fishermen. This bill would weaken science-based conservation of U.S. fish populations, decrease accountability, and increase the risk of overfishing by removing annual catch limits for many species.”

 The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate for a vote.

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