Just because they’re bottom-dwellers doesn’t mean nobody likes them.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) could help preserve seafloor-dwelling fish as well as the fishermen who depend on them for a living. Capps and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) co-wrote the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Preservation Act, which will provide relief to depleted groundfish populations by allowing some of the fishermen to exit the groundfish market. The bill passed the Senate on Jan. 24.

Right now, fishermen are not able to leave the industry without losing the large amount of money they have invested in their boats. This has resulted in overharvesting of the fisheries and further financial difficulties for the fishermen due to the depleted fish population.

Under Capps and Wyden’s bill, the government can buy the fishermen out, which Capps hopes will reduce the number of fishermen and increase the number of fish.

“Fishermen could not catch enough fish to survive. They were spending their life savings to maintain their boats,” said Brigid O’Brien, a representative of Lois Capps.

The Fisherman’s Marketing Association, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for fishermen, has played a large role in advocating the buyback program. Peter Leipzig, the executive director for the Fisherman’s Marketing Association, has pushed for such a program for nearly a decade.

“The only difficulty has been in getting Congress to get done with it,” Leipzig said. “There have been many bureaucratic, administrative and government obstacles.”

Although the House of Representatives and President George W. Bush have yet to approve the plan, the Senate has approved a loan to the fishing industry.

“We will not borrow all they offer because we can’t afford it,” Leipzig said.

The plan will help to conserve groundfish, but the extent to which it will help balance the ecosystem remains ambiguous. Specifically, the practice of trawling – dragging nets across the ocean floor – has recently come under scrutiny from environmentalists and the government.

Recent government policies are intended to minimize damage to the ocean floor from trawl fishing. The latest is depth-based area closures, which limit the depth of trawling in sensitive areas.

“The Natural Resource Council report spoke to the effects of bottom trawling,” said John Devore, a biologist for the Pacific Fishery Management Council. “It is not clear whether one or repeated trawls will have more of an effect. The question is, will it reduce the amount of effect in sensitive areas?”