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Wittman's bill aims to reel in NOAA
Ken Perrotte's outdoor column

 Jacob McGrady lifts a hefty grass carp he caught on light tackle while fishing in a small pond.
BARBARA McCRADY
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Date published: 6/30/2011

ABRUPT CLOSURES of popular ocean fisheries in recent years by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Fisheries Service, some based on allegedly sketchy data, raised the ire of many anglers and conservation groups.

Rob Wittman, Virginia's 1st District representative in Congress, has crafted a widely endorsed bill that requires catch limits to be set based on sound science.

Wittman's Fishery Science Improvement Act, House Resolution 2304, was first briefed to legislators June 14. Now filed and assigned to the Committee on Natural Resources, the bill has 17 co-sponsors in Congress and is endorsed by the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus as well as several conservation, sport fishing and marine industry groups.

Protection against overfishing was a centerpiece of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act as amended in 2006. Annual catch limits and accountability measures are supposed to be in place for every fishery by the end of this year, but data reportedly is lacking for hundreds of fish species.

Sound science was supposed to support decision-making. Stock assessments of fish species and better catch data were needed. The saltwater angler registry, mandatory this year, was designed to help improve catch data, but that program is just getting off the ground. Previous survey methods, used in justifying closures, have many critics.

Wittman's bill has three key components.

If the agency has not assessed a particular stock in the last five years, and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, an annual catch limit on that stock is not required.

FSIA gives NOAA Fisheries three years to work with the regional councils to figure out how to implement science-based measures appropriate for each region and its fisheries.

To avoid removing fish species from management entirely due to lack of data, NOAA Fisheries is designating a limited number of such stocks as "ecosystem components," allowing continued federal management without implementing an annual catch limit or accountability measure.

Congressional Sportsman's Foundation president Jeff Crane praised the bill, saying: "The sportfishing community is facing an unacceptable situation in which arbitrary deadlines are being allowed to trump the essential need for science-based management of our marine resources."

BILLFISH BLAST

Spotsylvania resident Stewart Heubi wrote recently to share details about a buddy trip to Costa Rica looking for big billfish down around the equator.


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