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Regulators rely on such “stock assessments” in setting fish catch limits, but fishermen argue the assessments are outdated.

The Bay State Democrat’s bill, introduced Thursday, would direct future fines to state research. Among those backing the bill is 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

“It’s important to remove any incentive that federal regulators might have to get overly ambitious in handing out fines,” Pingree said in a statement. “When fishermen violate the regulations they should pay a penalty, but it makes more sense for those fines to go into research to benefit the ones who are playing by the rules.”

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.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind contributed to this report.