Representative Joe Courtney was the lone member of the Connecticut delegation to vote in favor of a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a 1976 law that governs marine fisheries management in U.S. waters.
The bill was opposed by all but a handful of Democrats who largely were concerned that it would weaken protections for fish species that have in the past been threatened by over fishing.
Representative Jared Huffman, an Ohio Democrat, argued against the bill during floor debate saying it would roll back important conservation and management standards that have helped rebuild fish stocks.
“This attempt to return us to the bad old days of failed fishery management policy and overfishing that inevitably follows from loose standards should be seen as unacceptable to everyone who cares about sustainable fisheries,” Huffman said.
Courtney said the bill is not perfect but believes some of the concerns have been addressed in recent revisions of the House bill.
“The bill that came out of committee was bad,” he said but the bill that came to the floor was stripped of the “really egregious” attacks on the Endangered Species Act as well as other issues raised by Democrats.
The bill does allow more flexibility in how catch limits are set, Courtney said but does not change the “top line” of how many fish can be taken and the basic architecture of Magnuson-Stevens remains in place. Courtney said he supported the bill because it will benefit the fishing fleet in Stonington in his district.
“We have a fleet in the 2nd District that is really in trouble. The problem is the way catch limits are calculated by species is very unfair to Connecticut,” he said.
Warming ocean temperatures have caused fish species to migrate away from their historic areas and “catch limits” have not kept pace. Northeastern commercial fishermen, who once hauled in cod, now see plenty of sea bass — previously abundant in the mid-Atlantic — but can only haul in a minimal amount due to the way “catch limits” are currently set.
“Virginia and Maryland fisherman are right off New England raking in fish (because their catch limits are higher) and our guys basically hit their quota on the first trawl. It’s really not fair,” Courtney said.
Courtney said the House bill would help address that issue. The bill also includes a measure he sought to allow for commercial fishing boats to be used by the government when it surveys northeastern waters to establish what fish are prevalent. Currently, the trawling is done by a vessel owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that is unreliable. Courtney noted that from August 2017 to March 2018 it was in the shipyard undergoing repairs.
“There is a tremendous amount of mechanical problems with the ship,” he said, making it difficult to get an accurate count of the fish stock.