In a turnaround certain to please coastal states, the Carter administration has agreed to a House bill aimed at gradually eliminating foreign fishermen from the U.S. 200-mile zone.
A compromise on the controversial fisheries promotion bill pushed by Rep. John B. Breaux (D-La.) is scheduled to be called to final House vote today.
Such action, with approval expected, would come on the eve of an important campaign visit by President Carter Tuesday to Washington, a state with major fishing interests who consider the bill vital.
"The fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest sees this bill as its equivalent of the Chrysler Corp. bailout," a Department of Commerce spokesman said. "They think this is their year."
The White House-Breaux compromise, achieved last week after long negotiations, also could give a boost to Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D.-Wash.), who, like Carter, is facing a tough reelection battle.
Magnuson is the chief sponsor of a narrower Senate
Magnuson is the chief sponsor of a narrower Senate-passed bill whose fate is linked to the Breaux measure. Quick House-Senate agreement on the two bills is expected, assuring enactment this year.
Although the new Breaux version is not as sweeping as the bill that drew administration opposition, it still contains many of the provisions that led Rep. Paul N. McCloskey Jr. (R-Calif.) to call the measure a classic of special-interest messaging.
He termed it "a collection of goodies for the U.S. commercial fishery industry" and complained that it gave unneeded subsidies to fisherman and onshore processing units of giant agribusiness firms, such as Del Monte, Ralston-Purina and Castle and Cooke.
An aide to Breaux on the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee said weeks of negotiation brought agreement on new wording from the departments of State and Commerce as well as the White House.
He and some administration aides rejected the notion that the agreement had an election-campaign tinge. Others, however, took issue and predicted Carter will discuss the new fishing policy when he visits Tacoma, Wash.
A major change achieved through the negotiations involves a hotly debated reference to ban foreign fishermen from the 200-mile territorial zone declared by the United States in 1976. The Breaux bill, in a bow to the industry in his and other key fishing states, would have phased foreigners out of the zone by about 1990.
The State Department objected strongly to the forced phaseout. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under Commerce, opposed subsidy aspects of the Breaux bill.
The agreement reached last week still aims for a phaseout, but there is no deadline involved, and the phaseout would not be arbitrary. It would be keyed to foreigner's ability to harvest their allotments and to U.S. fishermen's ability to harvest theirs.
"This way, regional councils will play a key role in determining fishing levels and if the U.S. fishermen don't perform, there will be no fishing cutbacks for the foreigners," a Breaux aide said.
Although some view the effort to expel foreigners as a dangerous step that will provoke retaliation, administration officials insisted that a modified phaseout is consistent with declaration of the 200-mile zone.
"We have declared the 200-mile zone, and its purpose was to say this belonged to us. But without a system of allocations to promote U.S. fishing, there remains an inconsistency," a State Department officials said.
"The question has been whether you arbitrarily kick everyone out of that 200-mile zone."
Other compromises negotiated with Breaux include modified fee schedules for foreign fishermen's permits, so they are not priced out of the zone, and a less stringent and costly plan for putting U.S. enforcement monitors on foreign boats.
Although Breaux, an enemy of federal regulation, concedes his bill creates more regulation, he said through an aide last week that no new costs will fall on U.S. taxpayers. Permit fees will finance the program.