Getting Fishing Act Together

Recreational saltwater interests are fighting for more representation. (Mike Suchan photo)

Recreational fishing interests fight for provisions in Magnuson-Stevens

Officials within several fishing and boating organizations are continuing to pressure Congress to include more provisions that will assist recreational fishermen as legislators continue to explore reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Originally enacted in 1976 and amended several times over the years, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in United States federal waters. While much of the act deals with optimizing commercial fishing and efforts to prevent overfishing, members of the recreational fishing community are seeking substantive legislative changes to improve saltwater recreational fisheries management as the act awaits Congressional reauthorization.

“We would like to have seen more done in this bill to address the needs of the recreational fishing community,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “This bill includes several provisions that we support, such as easing the strict implementation of annual catch limits and improving stock assessments for data poor fisheries, but unfortunately our top priorities are not meaningfully addressed.”

In February, the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Richard “Doc” Hastings, R-Washington, approved the reauthorization bill, House Resolution 4742, and it now awaits a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to release its Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill soon, and full reauthorization of the bill may not occur until the next session of Congress.

Members of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management met in 2013 to debate strategies to help the recreational fisherman in the bill’s reauthorization. Co-chaired by Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats President Scott Deal, the committee was composed of biologists, economists, conservationists, fisheries managers and policy makers. Their findings culminated in a report, A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries, which was introduced in February at the Miami International Boat Show.

The commission, largely known as the Morris-Deal Commission, submitted a report that offered six recommendations for the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization concerning recreational saltwater fishing:

  • Establishing a national policy for recreational fishing
  • Adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management
  • Allocating marine fisheries for the greatest benefit of the nation
  • Creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines
  • Codifying a process for cooperative management
  • Managing for the forage base

Nick Stanczyk of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina holds a Spanish mackerel caught in Florida Bay. (Mike Suchan photo)
Nick Stanczyk of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina holds a Spanish mackerel caught in Florida Bay.
(Mike Suchan photo)

“For many reasons, I’m deeply committed to protecting and enhancing our nation’s fisheries to ensure a bright future for the great American tradition of fishing,” Morris said. “Sharing our outdoor heritage with our children and grandchildren means we must work hard now to improve saltwater recreational fisheries management.”

Deal added, “This is the first time the recreational fishing community and the fishing and boating industries have clearly set forth what we believe the majority of the nation’s recreational anglers want regarding our saltwater fisheries laws, management policies and regulations.”

According to the ASA, approximately 11 million Americans saltwater fished recreationally in 2011 and spent about $27 billion in the process. That generated more than $70 billion in economic output and sustained approximately 450,000 jobs.

However, some officials are concerned that the House Natural Resources Committee largely ignored the recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission as well as other glaring needs.

“In addition to overlooking the priorities of the Morris-Deal Commission, we are also disappointed that the federal management failure with red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico is not resolved in H.R. 4742,” said Patrick Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association.

An update of the 30-year-old Gulf red snapper allocation between commercial and recreational sectors is being pursued heavily by the CCA and other organizations.

“It’s vital that Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization addresses this management train-wreck by transferring Gulf red snapper management over to the states, which are much better equipped to successfully manage this important fishery,” Murray said.

Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation, said the time for the Magnuson-Stevens to assist the recreational angler as well as the commercial fishing industry is long overdue.

“Since its inception, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has focused primarily on commercial fisheries to the detriment of the nation’s 11 million recreational fishermen and the nearly half a million jobs they support,” he said. “Revising the law in a way that incorporates the goals and needs of anglers is long overdue.

“Our community has put forward the policy changes that will set the foundation for an effective saltwater fisheries management system, but we need Congress’ help by enacting these common sense and nonpartisan policies.”

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