BOSTON  — Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank has introduced a bill to direct fines already collected from fishermen who broke fishery laws toward studies into the health of fish species.

Regulators rely on such “stock assessments” in setting fish catch limits, but fishermen argue the assessments are outdated.

Frank’s bill, introduced Thursday, would direct future fines to state research. A dozen co-sponsors include lawmakers from Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law enforcement agency has been criticized since a federal review found some New England fishermen were unfairly penalized and the fines were misspent.

Frank’s bill echoes Sen. John Kerry’s legislation to reimburse legal fees for fishermen whose unjust penalties were recently refunded by the Commerce Department. Separately, Sen. Scott Brown has filed legislation to switch the penalty fund from NOAA to Treasury Department control.

Also backing the bill is Maine 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

“Regulators were heavy handed and unreasonable with enforcement and Maine fishermen were among the victims,” Pingree said. “The top people at NOAA know this and they’ve taken steps to address the problem but I think more needs to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.”

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