House committee passes act giving FWS authority over certain endangered species

A U.S. House of Representatives committee has given its approval to a bill that proponents claim would eliminate redundancies in the Endangered Species Act and put the Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of safeguarding fish that migrate between fresh and ocean waters.

The Federally Integrated Species Health (FISH) Act passed the Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, 16 May by a 22-14 vote. It now proceeds to the House floor.

Currently, endangered species responsibilities are shared between FWS, which resides in the Interior Department, and the National Marines Fisheries Service, which is under the purview of the Department of Commerce. U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), the bill’s primary sponsor, said it doesn’t make sense for two agencies to share oversight.

H.R. 3916 “is a good government bill that will benefit species and all stakeholders affected by the ESA through a unified approach to managing threatened and endangered species,” he said in a statement after filing the bill last year. “As we have seen in the California Bay Delta and other complex habitats, there are often conflicting and incompatible measures taken by different resource agencies."

U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (D-California), another sponsor, said last year the two agencies have sometimes given conflicting orders. For example, one agency asked that water be released from his state’s Shasta Dam to help Delta smelt while the other wanted water held back to help salmon.

However, several environmental and fishing groups have expressed concern about taking away management responsibilities from the fisheries service.

“Fish populations are important components of national park ecosystems across the country, and endangered species such as salmon at Olympic National Park and Atlantic sturgeon at Colonial National Historical Park, rely on protections provided under the Endangered Species Act for their ongoing recovery,” the National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement earlier this week. “Transferring the management of these species from NMFS would fragment current protection efforts and potentially setback the long-term health of the species.”


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