An executive order by President Donald Trump designed to radically cut back on federal regulations has spurred disagreement among fishermen about how it will affect them — and lawmakers and regulators aren't sure what the answer is.
Groups that represent both commercial and recreational fishermen are divided over whether Trump's "one in, two out" approach to federal regulations will benefit their industry, harm it or not affect it at all.
Meanwhile, the arm of the federal government that regulates fishing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is still trying to figure out exactly what the executive order means for fisheries management.
Trump's order in January says that when a public agency proposes a new regulation, it must also identify two regulations to be repealed. The order caused a flurry of debate, and a lawsuit from political opponents, over whether it's a wise idea or even possible.
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NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service manages hundreds of fish stocks and is responsible for managing rules such as seasonal closures and quota limits. U.S. fishermen caught nearly 10 billion pounds of fish in 2015, under voluminous regulations managed by NOAA under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act .
Several fishing groups, ranging from the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association to the Massachusetts Striped Bass Association, are joining Democratic Reps. Jared Huffman of California and Raul Grijalva of Arizona in asking Trump to rescind. They describe the order as arbitrary and dangerous.
"There's no doubt regulations have stifled our industry," said Bob Rees, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders. "But those regulations exist for a reason, and it's the long-term sustainability of those stocks."
Other industry interests, including the Fisheries Survival Fund, said the order will likely leave fisheries unaffected. The order would apply only to financially significant regulations, and that would not include things like opening fishing seasons and enforcing catch limits, said Drew Minkiewicz, an attorney for the fund.
"All this talk about how you're not going to be able to manage fisheries — not true, doesn't apply, not going to happen," he said.
NOAA has not yet determined what the order will do to regulations. The agency issued a statement that it is working with the federal Department of Commerce, Office of Management and Budget and the Trump administration to determine what it means. For now, NOAA is implementing normal management measures, and "everything is proceeding as usual," said Jennifer Goebel, an agency spokeswoman.
The White House did not respond to calls and emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Environmental groups, including the New England-based Conservation Law Foundation, have also opposed the executive order because of its potential impact on fisheries. Rep. Huffman said the possible impacts of the executive order need to be taken seriously, and the administration should at least clarify them for the industry.
"All we have is the hope that regulators will be allowed not to jump through these hoops when it comes to fisheries management," he said. "We are worried about it and it would be great if this administration could just clear this up once and for all."