Senate Considers Outdoors Bills

Bill introduced to the Senate would aide sportsmen. (James Overstreet photo)

Sportmen's Heritage Act the most ‘diverse, pro-sportsmen legislative package' in years

It’s nice to have friends in high places, and the Senate could make anglers and hunters rejoice if it were to pass a large package of pro-sportsmen legislation that was introduced as an amendment to the Farm Bill.

Introduced by co-chairs of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 addresses several key issues that are impacting the sportfishing industry and anglers.

The package features two bills that recently passed the House of Representatives as a part of the Sportsmen's Heritage Act, including legislation that prevents a federal ban of lead fishing tackle and ammunition. The Sportsmen's Act of 2012 features several other provisions that will advance the conservation of fish habitat and populations and increase recreational fishing opportunity.

"The Sportsmen's Act of 2012 is the largest, most diverse pro-sportsmen legislative package introduced in recent memory," American Sportfishing Association Vice President Gordon Robertson said. "The sportfishing industry thanks Sens. Tester and Thune for addressing some of the biggest issues that are affecting sportsmen and women. From improving habitat conservation to increasing public access, passage of the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 would represent one of the biggest advancements for recreational fishing in years."

The Sportsmen's Act of 2012 features 19 bills that promote our nation's recreational fishing, hunting and shooting heritage, eight of which will have significant specific impacts on the sportfishing community.

Of particular note are:

The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act (S. 838) – This section will block ongoing attempts to ban lead in recreational fishing equipment and ammunition by clarifying the Toxic Substances Control Act. Recent attempts to overregulate sportfishing equipment in a non-scientific fashion by anti-fishing interests represent one of the largest threats to the sport.

National Fish Habitat Conservation Act (S. 1201) – This section will authorize the National Fish Habitat Partnership, an initiative that seeks to protect, restore and enhance fish habitat on a range-wide scale. This non-regulatory partnership is the most comprehensive effort ever attempted to voluntarily conserve freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats nationwide.

Billfish Conservation Act (S. 1451) – This section will conserve declining billfish populations by prohibiting the commercial sale and importation of billfish throughout the U.S., with an exception in the state of Hawaii and the Pacific Insular Area islands to preserve traditional fisheries. It is currently illegal to harvest or import Atlantic-caught billfish into the U.S., but billfish from other oceans come into U.S. markets in substantial numbers.

Report on Artificial Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico – This section would require the Department of the Interior to develop a report on its Idle Iron policy, which requires the removal of idle drilling platforms, in order to develop a coordination strategy between agencies and states. These platforms represent the world's largest network of artificial reefs and provide habitat for marine species on an otherwise barren seafloor.

Making Public Lands Public Act (S. 901) – This section will address one of the most significant obstacles to sportfishing – lack of access to public lands and waters. This language will increase access to angling, hunting and recreational shooting opportunities on federal lands, by directing 1.5 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to ensure that fishing, hunting and other recreational activities are accessible.

"There is no doubt that the thousands of anglers who have supported these individual provisions through KeepAmericaFishing™ played an important role in the introduction of this amendment," said Robertson. "This clearly demonstrates the impact that anglers can have when speaking collectively with one voice. With passage of this bill, anglers will see the rewards of their efforts on the water."

The Senate voted on June 7 to advance the 2012 Farm Bill discussions, which will cover the potential inclusion of the Sportsmen's Act of 2012.

"While Sportsmen's Act of 2012 addresses many of the key issues impacting recreational fishing today, there are still other legislative measures important to the sportfishing community that we hope to see move this year. With Congress' support, we can overcome the obstacles facing sportsmen and women and improve conservation efforts nationwide," Robertson said.

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