Law Conference Fishes For Answers

October 1, 1997

Nick Marinello

A group of more than 170 people, including representatives from all coastal areas of the United States, participated in a national fisheries law conference hosted by Tulane Law School Sept. 5-6. The event, which was attended by fishermen, representatives from fishermen and conservation organizations, scientists, lawyers, and students, was entitled "The Magnuson-Stevens Act: Sustainable Fisheries for the 21st Century?"

It provided a forum to exam issues associated with the Magnuson-Stevens Act that was signed into law by President Clinton last fall, substantially amending federal fisheries law. Among issues analyzed at the conference were the law's new requirement for the identification of "essential fish habitat," those areas necessary for the development of particular fish through all stages of their life cycle.

Another panel brought together a representative of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, an Italian law professor and a legal adviser to the World Bank for a discussion of the international context of U.S. fisheries law. The conference closed with a discussion of individual transferable quotas, which are a means of introducing market mechanisms into fisheries management.

Under this scheme, a government agency sets an annual quota for a particular fishery and then auctions off the right to percentages of that quota. Those rights then become tradable property, raising concerns, in some quarters, about the potential for limiting the access to a fishery to only a few. Other topics covered at the conference included overfishing, corral reefs, "dead zones" and marsh management.

The conference also featured a keynote address by Gary Matlock, director of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries for the National Marine Fisheries Service, who reviewed the progress made over the last 20 years, since the federal fisheries law was first enacted.

"We didn't resolve all the issues here," said Jerry Speir, director of Tulane's Institute for Environmental Law and Policy and conference coordinator, "but we certainly raised the debate a notch--and with all the right people in the room. "This was the first time that this varied and influential group has come together to discuss the new provisions of the law since its passage," said Speir. "I think people may look back on this meeting as the place where the resolution of some critical issues began."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000