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Bush applauds a measure aimed at protecting nation's fisheries

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that the country is committed to ensuring strong commercial and recreational fishing and praised legislation that overhauls management of marine fisheries and strengthens protections against further depleting stocks.

The measure, passed early yesterday, requires the use of annual catch limits and enhances the authority of eight regional fishery management councils.

The bill reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act through 2013.

The 30-year-old law is the main legislation guiding fishery management in ocean waters between 3 miles and 200 miles offshore.

"This bill embraces my priorities of ending overfishing and rebuilding our nation's fish stocks through more effective, market-based management and tougher enforcement," Bush said in a statement that was issued yesterday.

He said the measure offers tools "to achieve progress internationally to ensure healthy fish stocks, promote better management, and halt destructive fishing practices based on sound science."

Supporters said the bill would strengthen law by requiring science-based management of US fisheries, penalties for illegal fishing in international waters, and an end to overfishing.

"Our oceans are in serious trouble and this legislation will help to reverse their decline," said Sarah Chasis, director of the Oceans Initiative for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

She and others hailed a provision that sets overall limits on the number of fish that can be caught, while allowing fishermen flexibility in how they divide shares of the catch.

"We are pleased that the bill includes provisions to strengthen the use of science in the fishery management process, end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks," said David Hoskins, vice president of The Ocean Conservancy.

Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who heads the subcommittee that oversees fisheries, said the bill would provide an economic lifeline to fishermen while ensuring a secure supply of fish.

"This legislation is not a perfect solution, but I believe we have struck an appropriate balance between preserving the marine resources of our coastal communities with these fisheries management tools," she said.

Bush said the United States "is committed to maintaining our thriving . . . commercial and recreational fishing communities."

Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, who led efforts to update the law that bears his name, said lawmakers had heeded a call by Bush to end overfishing.

Bush, in a speech this fall, urged Congress to reauthorize the fishing law.

He said that overfishing was harmful to the United States and the world.

"This legislation is important to sustaining and conserving our nation's fisheries for generations to come," Stevens said.

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