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FISHERIES experts are set to gather in Washington DC next week for a summit that could result in major changes to federal fishery law – changes that could affect how fishing rules are set in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists, fishermen, managers, and others are convening May 7-9 at a summit hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and regional fishery management councils. The meeting is designed to kick start Congressional debate over the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs US fish policy. Summit participants will discuss improvements for setting annual catch limits, the science behind fish population studies and economic impacts of fishing regulations, among other topics.

Congress already has begun hearings on reauthorizing the Act – a time when proposals for significant changes are on the table. The Act was last reauthorized in 2006, when Congress gave regional fishery managers strict deadlines to end and prevent overfishing of hundreds of species.

The timing is critical for next week's discussions, say Pew, who feel that many of our ocean ecosystems are severely compromised by decades of overfishing, habitat-damaging practices and indiscriminate fishing gear that captures and kills vast amounts of non-target ocean wildlife. On top of that, ocean acidification and warming ocean temperatures further threaten some of America's most valuable fisheries.

A new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and Ocean Conservancy, to be released Monday, highlights how the US has benefitted from the recovery of dozens of dwindling fish species thanks to the Act. The report also identifies many remaining problems along with new threats that could undermine these historic accomplishments. It offers recommendations for how to address these challenges. The report will be available here on Monday:

Experts from Pew, a co-sponsor of the summit, are attending the discussions and will advocate for a holistic, ecosystem-based approach to managing fish. Among the goals are:

· Stronger legal authority to protect essential fish habitat and minimize non-target catch.

· Requirements for forward-thinking plans that maintain resilient ocean ecosystems.

· Prevention of unsustainable exploitation of small fish, such as menhaden and sardines, which help form the foundation of the ocean food web.

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