Seafood Industry and Presidential Panel at Odds over Total Allowable Catch Designations

A presidential panel next month will urge Congress and the White House to separate the commercial fishing industry from deliberations to set limits on fishing harvests in American and international waters.

The proposal by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy is likely to ignite fierce political battles between powerful seafood interests and ocean-related environmental groups spending millions of dollars on campaigns to reform oversight of the nation's commercial-fishing industry.

The commission, a 16-member panel appointed by President Bush, is expected to release the first government report in 35 years on the state of the oceans.

While details of that report remain under wraps, members of the panel have hinted that their conclusions paint a troubling portrait of our seas as suffering from serious problems with agricultural and chemical runoff, overfishing, coastal development and habitat destruction.

New England's cod fishery has collapsed, as has fishing for several species of rockfish along the Pacific coast, and government scientists now consider a third of all commercial fish species “overfished.”

Commission members believe that the first step toward recovery would be to separate the science that leads to “total allowable catch” designations from decisions about who gets what amount of that catch. Meanwhile, environmental groups have been lobbying Congress in preparation for the report's release next month.