msnbc.com
updated 6/22/2005 3:33:10 PM ET 2005-06-22T19:33:10

The Bush administration on Wednesday proposed changing how overfishing is calculated — a move that conservationists fear would mean more, not less, fishing of endangered species.

The proposal would take into account "socio-economic considerations" in deciding when a species is overfished.

"The new guidelines address the need to end overfishing and rebuild stocks while maintaining viable commercial and recreational fisheries," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in announcing the proposal.

The National Environmental Trust said the rule, if approved, would "open the nation's oceans to overfishing with impunity. If this rule becomes law, the overfishing standard, a fundamental conservation measure, will be stripped of its ability to protect the nation's fish populations and the ocean ecosystems of which they are a part."

Lee Crockett, head of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, said the proposal would "eliminate the requirement to rebuild an overfished population within 10 years when it is possible in favor of flexible timeframes that would greatly increase the number of years that vulnerable fish populations remain at risk."

Conservationists feared the proposal would hit wild fish populations especially hard.

"The writing's on the wall," said Matt Rand, director of the Conserve Our Ocean Legacy campaign. "When it comes to managing the nation's wild fish stocks, NOAA has decided to throw in the towel."

The proposal follows one two weeks ago that would allow fish farms to locate in federal waters up to 200 miles offshore.

NOAA began a 60-day period to take public comments. E-mail comments may be sent to nationalstandard1@noaa.gov

NOAA background on the proposal is online at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/mediacenter/

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