WASHINGTON – Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and his chairman on the House Resources Committee have different views on how to manage the nation’s fisheries.
Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, chairman of the Resources’ Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans, wants to set a hard limit on total catch, but Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., said such a limit has run into trouble in the Senate.
Both lawmakers are trying to win reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, which expired in 1999.
The act phased out foreign fishing in a 200-mile zone from the U.S. coastline and established national standards for conservation management in U.S. fisheries. Maryland’s coastal waters would be affected by any reauthorization.
Roughly 90 percent of Maryland’s commercial fishing and 75 percent of recreational catches occur off Ocean City, the state’s only ocean port, said Harley Speir, director of regulatory and compliance programs at the Department of Natural Resources Fishery Service.
Gilchrest and Pombo cooperated on other fisheries legislation this session, but differing opinions on overfishing led to separate bills on the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Gilchrest’s bill closely mirrors a reauthorization bill in the Senate emphasizing ecosystem-friendly management and federal accountability.
“We used the Senate bill as a basis, took some of the best elements from the administration bill, mixed it together, added some salt and pepper, and dropped it (into the U.S. House),” Gilchrest said.
Gilchrest’s amendments propose an annual limit called a Hard Total Allowable Catch. Fishing concerns that exceed the catch limit would have to repay the amount the following year by catching less of that fish.
Pombo’s bill did not include a Hard TAC, because a similar measure was causing heartache in the Senate, according to information from the Resources Committee. New England objected to the Hard TAC provision, because it determines its harvest limits based on days at sea.
A Hard TAC would not have a dramatic effect on Maryland, since it already operates with a similar system.
“As far as (Gilchrest’s bill), payback is not that novel,” Speir said. “It is a tool that is frequently used.”
Gilchrest’s bill also seeks to end overfishing within one year. The Bush administration had a bill that eliminated overfishing within one year, but that bill deletes a 10-year fish population rebuilding requirement. Gilchrest’s bill keeps the requirement.
A one-year deadline on overfishing would be challenging, Speir said.
“It can be done,” he said, “but in many places it would require very intensive management.”
Overfishing occurs when watermen take more fish than are reproduced in the same period, said Andrew Rosenberg, natural resources professor at the University of New Hampshire. This is partly due to more efficient gear such as fish-sensing electronics, he said, while a handful of fishermen break the rules by landing nets at odd places and times.
Pombo’s bill offers more flexibility in rebuilding overfished stocks, the committee said, by extending the deadline beyond 10 years if outside factors like pollution or climate change affect populations. Extensions would also be granted if only one species was overfished or a rebuilding plan was already in place.
Speir said he could not take a stance on whether one congressman’s bill was better than the other for Maryland. The state is rebuilding its flounder stocks by squeezing flounder fishing to a level where stocks will naturally increase. These math models allow fishing to continue as stock is replenished, he said.
Fish do not recognize borders so interstate activity becomes an issue, Gilchrest said. Menhaden, for example, is a main source of food for Maryland rockfish, but its neighbor Virginia has no cap on how many menhaden are caught. An outfit from Louisiana “just catches as many as they want,” illustrating the need for stronger federal guidelines, he said.
“Even though other states may be doing the over-harvesting . . . Maryland would also share in those restrictions,” the state’s Speir said. “We all share in this.”
Gilchrest and Pombo are likely to work together again to craft a solution, Gilchrest said.
“There’s probably always some kind of compromise in the works,” Gilchrest said.
Jeff Eutsler, a commercial fisherman off Ocean City since 1979, said he does not pay as much attention to Magnuson-Stevens debate as he probably should. New quotas could affect his catch, usually consisting of flounder, striped bass, sea trout and others. But overall, there seems to be a great deal of accountability when it comes to overfishing state species, he said.
“They’re all,” he said, “pretty regulated pretty heavily.”