Fighting Bad Fisheries Policy

WILL there be fish in the seas for future generations? If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) continue down the present path, the answer will be, ``No.''

In negotiating GATT, United States trade negotiators failed to understand this point, and President Clinton has inherited fatally flawed international agreements. Three fisheries-management issues illustrate this: large-scale driftnet fishing; overfishing in the ``Donut Hole,'' an area in the Bering Sea just beyond the 200-mile territorial limits of the US and Russia; and shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Fishermen from southwest Washington alerted me to the problem of foreign large-scale monofilament driftnets - 20, 30, or more miles long - and the devastation they were wreaking on international marine resources.

After much effort, the US Department of State was convinced to get protective legislation passed through Congress, and the department got the United Nations to impose an international ban on driftnets; it took effect Jan. 1.

But those sanctions aren't being used. Earlier this year the Coast Guard intercepted four driftnet vessels. Despite repeated urging, the State Department didn't begin the sanctions process. I have every reason to believe one of the principal reasons was the near certainty that sanctions would have been found in violation of GATT.

If that were not enough to convince me our trade agreements are not satisfactory, another example brought it home even more forcefully.

Fishing for pollock in the Donut Hole began in the mid-1980s and quickly expanded from a total harvest of about 360,000 metric tons in 1985 to a peak of roughly 1.4 million metric tons in 1988 and 1989. The US and Russia imposed restrictions on their own fishing vessels to protect the stocks, but other nations continued their fishing frenzy. Eight international meetings have been held in an attempt to stem the destruction of the fishery, but they came to nothing because our trade agreements simply will not allow for effective enforcement of any fisheries-management scheme in international waters. By 1992, fishermen harvested only 10,000 metric tons of pollock. The fishery is decimated.

The final example is in the Gulf of Mexico, where five species of sea turtles are listed as endangered or threatened. To reduce incidental killings of these turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires US fishermen to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in their nets.

After US fishermen pointed out that TEDs made shrimp fishing less efficient and put them at a competitive disadvantage with Mexican fishermen, who aren't required to use the devices, Congress enacted a law prohibiting shrimp imports from Mexico until its fishermen reduced the number of turtles killed to levels comparable to those of US fishermen. This forced Mexico to negotiate with the US and to begin taking responsible action.

But under NAFTA, could US laws prohibit importation of shrimp from Mexico caught in violation of our laws? NAFTA backers cannot provide assurances, and that would be worse than just ignoring an environmental issue - it would be a step backward. We are destroying our marine resources and little can be done because trade negotiators don't seem to think such things are worthy of their attention. Well, we must get their attention.

I must vote no on NAFTA to highlight the issue of fisheries management. Trade agreements can prevent the decimation of natural resources. Used incorrectly, as in NAFTA and GATT, they will cause irreparable harm.

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