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January 05, 2006

Senate Bill Updates Fishery Regs

A U.S. Senate committee has discharged its version of a large-scale law governing the fishing industry, while the House of Representatives adjourned for the year without seeing another version of the bill.

SALISBURY -- A U.S. Senate committee has discharged its version of a large-scale law governing the fishing industry, while the House of Representatives adjourned for the year without seeing another version of the bill.

The senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee put the finishing touches on the bill -- a renewal of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act -- late this month.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act guides states as they set quotas on how many fish can be caught in each species, and affects what kind of gear commercial and recreational fishermen can use. It was first introduced into law in the 1970s, but no major changes have been made to it since 2002.

At least one conservation group, the Marine Fish Conservation Network, lauded the senate bill for not removing some existing regulations and for adding research programs, but tweaked it for not mandating that some regulations hew closely to new scientific advice.

The committee's top Republican, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, and its top Democrat, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, both put their seal of approval on the bill.

A similar piece of legislation in the House, however, was not approved by House Resources Committee before Congress adjourned for the holidays.

That committee is chaired by Republican Richard Pombo of California, who is drafting one version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, while the Eastern Shore's Wayne Gilchrest, R-1st-Md., is working on a separate bill that may contain more provisions supported by environmental groups than Pombo's.

"The relationship between Gilchrest and Pombo is not very good these days," said Brooks Mountcastle, a spokesman for the Marine Fish Conservation Network, in a recent interview.

Officials from Gilchrest's office said it was not clear when the House committee might agree on a similar bill.

If the House and Senate produced competing versions of the same bill, a committee of members of Congress would meet to craft a compromise bill that the chambers would vote on again.