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Thursday, July 20, 2000

Longline fishing curbs
should be relaxed

Bullet The issue: A federal judge has imposed severe restrictions on the Hawaii longline fishing industry to protest endangered sea turtles, but now offers to mediate the dispute.

Bullet Our view: The restrictions as ordered were unreasonable and should be revised to make them tolerable.

IN his June 23 order restricting Hawaii-based longline fishing operations, federal Judge David Ezra appeared to have far exceeded reasonable limits. Spokesmen for the fishermen said implementation of the order was impossible because the trained observers he ordered to be stationed on each fishing vessel were not available in anything like the numbers required.

Moreover, the limits Ezra set on the number of hooks that could be set and the ocean areas that could be fished were so draconian that the industry could not survive. Under the order, 95 percent of the fishery would be closed and fishing would be restricted to a week or two a year. But fishermen of other nations could operate in the same areas without restraints.

The idea that such restrictions were needed or appropriate to save endangered species of sea turtles -- which was the rationale for the judge's order -- was also challenged by scientists and seemed highly dubious.

Now Ezra has backed off a bit. At a hearing on a request by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Hawaii Longline Association to reconsider his order, the judge offered to mediate discussions between the litigants -- the environmental groups that brought suit, the fisheries service and the longliners. Ezra said he was not reconsidering his previous order, but his offer to mediate appeared to amount to the same thing. Call it a quibble.

Nonetheless the judge declared that "unrestricted longline fishing will never happen again in the Pacific by American-based boats." No doubt. The question is what the restrictions should be, not whether there should be restrictions.

The industry hopes that the discussions will result in a revised court order that the fishermen -- and the turtles -- can live with. That cannot be said of the order that Ezra handed down last month, which appears to have been based on an unrealistic and misinformed analysis of the situation.

The judge also chided the longline association for mounting an advertising campaign, calling it a "big flop" and declaring that the federal court would not be influenced by the ads.

We would be dismayed if the courts could be so influenced, but the fishermen have a First Amendment right to explain their side of this issue and seek public support -- a fact that the judge chose to ignore.

It's entirely possible that the campaign could succeed in political terms, perhaps by winning support for increased appropriations for the fisheries service or changes in the law. If that happened, the campaign would not be a flop. And the fishermen certainly have a right to attempt to affect public opinion.

And why not? Their livelihoods are at stake. For the judge to deride this campaign as he did seemed wholly inappropriate.

There may now be a chance to reach a realistic settlement while the court awaits completion of an environmental impact statement by the fisheries service. The issue is one of reasonable regulation to protect the sea turtles versus excessive restrictions that would needlessly destroy the industry in Hawaii.

Putin vs. the oligarchs

Bullet The issue: Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has launched a campaign against the tycoons who emerged from the collapse of communism.

Bullet Our view: The campaign could be beneficial if press freedoms are left intact.

BUSINESS leaders who used their connections in the Kremlin to acquire large chunks of state assets following the collapse of communism may have lost their touch. Newly elected President Vladimir V. Putin has launched a campaign to dramatically restructure the government and reduce the influence of the tycoons. The risk is that striking down what threatens to become an oligarchy could come at the cost of creating an autocracy and infringing on press freedoms.

Putin says he wants to streamline the government by permanently ousting all 89 regional governors and legislative leaders from their guaranteed seats in Russia's Federation Council, the parliament's upper house. They would be replaced with lesser regional officials. Putin also issued a decree organizing the 89 provinces into seven administrative districts, headed by officials answering to the Kremlin.

Under Boris Yeltsin's presidency, many of the provinces had become fiefdoms with more economic muscle than many federal agencies, which came to depend upon them for favors. The governors became involved in corruption and, in some cases, directly controlled the newly created private sector.

A Pacific coast governor took over private businesses and seized control of the press, ignoring federal decrees. A governor on the Black Sea coast has been cited by human rights groups for authoritarian rule. Some regions have created trade barriers and other regulations contradicting federal law.

Boris Berezovsky, Russia's top tycoon and a member of Yeltsin's inner circle who also supported Putin's election, has angrily resigned from the Duma, the lower house of parliament, in protest against the anti-oligarch campaign. "I do not want to take part in the dismantling of Russia and the imposition of authoritarian rule," said Berezovsky, a media mogul and the largest private shareholder of Aeroflot, the state-controlled airline.

Like Berezovsky, a number of the tycoons have built media empires to assure their continued influence. Putin was criticized recently for the brief jailing of one such media baron, Vladimir Gusinsky, for alleged embezzlement. The federal prosecutor has followed that up with investigations of nickel and oil companies and an auto manufacturer with ties to Berezovsky.

During his presidential campaign, Putin said he would challenge the country's robber barons, and he seems to be carrying out that pledge. Russia may benefit from such a cleansing process if it is carried out with fairness and recognition of press freedoms.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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