BOSTON – Congress passed a bill Tuesday that fishermen say will bring fairness to fish-sharing negotiations with Canada and likely lead to a higher catch limit on a key New England species.

Every year, negotiators decide how much each nation can take in a rich section of Georges Bank that includes both U.S. and Canadian waters. The new law allows the U.S. to deal with Canada without being held to the tight 10-year timeline to rebuild fish stocks, which applies in all other American waters.

Without the pressure of that timeline, Canada can allow its fishermen to catch more of a given species in a given year. The change evens things out, lawmakers said.

“For too long, our fishery managers have been placed at a competitive disadvantage in negotiating catch limits with their Canadian counterparts because of an erroneous interpretation of the law,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, who led the push for passage of the law with Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank.

Fishermen are hoping the change will lead to a quick increase in what they say is an unnecessarily low catch limit for yellowtail flounder. That low limit threatens the entire industry, they say, because new rules shut down fishing on all species once the catch limit on even one species is reached.

“Knowing that they have more yellowtail would keep (fishermen) more at ease fishing out in the ocean, (knowing) if they do come across yellowtail they won’t be shut down,” said Richie Canastra of Whaling City Seafood Display Auction in New Bedford.

Canastra said the lucrative scallop industry also is affected because it’s been forced to curtail fishing to protect yellowtail, which are caught by mistake in scallop dredges.

The basic fix in the law means the U.S. now recognizes its agreement with Canada as an “international agreement.” The nation’s fishery law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, allows “international agreements” to include stock rebuilding periods longer than the 10-year timeline.

Lee Crockett, director of federal fisheries policy at the Pew Environment Group, called the change a “technical fix” and said he didn’t want to speculate on how regulators deciding catch limits would respond.

“They still can’t allow overfishing, which I think is a really important benchmark to make sure this doesn’t lead to over-exploitation of the resources,” he said.