The House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee has crafted a little election year present for one of its constituencies that has a lot of nonconstituents hopping mad.
It's the Fisheries Promotion Act which could banish foreign fishermen from American waters by 1990.
The proposed amendment to the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 provides that foreign fishermen can harvest only the fish U.S. fishermen can't catch.
The new bill, sponsored by Rep. John B. Breaux (D-La.), would hasten the phase-out of foreign fishing, although last year American fishermen caught less that half their quota. It would arbitrarily lower the allowable foreign catch 15 percent next year and by fixed percentages in subsequent years.
There is no comparable bill in the Senate. Some congressional staffers believe the House committee wil try to have it tacked onto a Senate fisheries bill as an amendment. Others say they suspect members of the committee are grandstanding for fishing constituencies back home.
Supporters of the proposal had hoped to slip it to the House Floor for a vote this week, but were deterred when the Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means committees raised jurisdictional claims. The bill must now undergo scrutiny by those panels.
Rep. Paul N. McClousky Jr. (R-Calif.), the sole member of the Fisheries Committee to vote against the bill, calls it "a collection of goodies for the U.S. commercial fishing industry." He also says he is annoyed that the administration, which opposed the bill vehemently in committee, has not made more efforts to stop it. o
Since the FCMA was passed in 1976, the State Department has negotiated bilateral fishing treaties with 13 countries, including Japan, the European Community and the Soviet Union. They are uniformly upset about the bill and maintain it violates the principle of the best use of ocean resources, which come out of the Law of the Sea conference.
Hisao Kataguri, the Japanese agricultural attache, says the bill, if passed, would "vastly affect U.S.-Japanese general economic relations."
He pointed out that more than 50 percent of U.S. fish exports, worth $568 million, went to Japan last year, and implied that the bill could damage the Japanese market for American fish.
Breaux contends that getting foreign fishermen out of American waters would be good for the American fishing industry.
"American fishermen say they can only expand when foreigners are not in our waters," he says.
In addition to the accelerated phase-out of foreign fishing, the proposal also expands federal subsidies for the fishing industry through low-interest, government guaranteed loans. It would for the first time extend such loans to fish processing plants.
McCloskey says these loans would not go to Mom and Pop enterprises, but to multinational corporations such as Del Monte and Ralston-Purina.
Breaux answers that there is a shortage of capital in the fishing industry. He cited testimony by representatives of the fishing lobby before his subcommittee that their industry needed the government loan program.