Perhaps no one more than fishermen understand that sound environmental policy is vital to their pursuit. Without sensible conservation, long-term opportunities for commercial and sport fishing will vanish. And without fishermen, billions of dollars of annual contribution to the United States economy will diminish.

It is essential that Congress get it right as legislation to update federal fisheries law is considered. The current law, known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act, actually does a pretty good job at balancing fishing opportunities with protecting the marine environment. It's not that the law could not be improved, especially by using the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, but, as pointed out by an editorial in The Daily Astorian ("Smith's bill deserves defeat in the war," May 9), misguided strokes of the legislative pen could easily damage fishing communities.

For example, amendments to fisheries law introduced by U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo would exempt decisions of federal managers from provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires the government to analyze its proposed actions and to explain the expected effects on communities. Federal agencies must also examine the cumulative effects of related actions. They're supposed to do this in a way that citizens can understand, while providing the chance for fishermen and the general public to comment - and receive responses to their comments.

For more than 30 years, NEPA regulations have been refined to better serve the public. Fisheries managers have learned to use this process, and community participation in decisions has increased - even if the results are often controversial.

It would be a significant step backward to accept Pombo's attempt to reduce public involvement in fisheries management and shield federal officials from accountability. We should demand more transparency in government, not less.

PETER HUHTALA

senior policy director

Pacific Marine Conservation Council

Astoria

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