The Modern Fish Act could bring major benefits to saltwater anglers.
This past December (2017), the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R. 200, a bill of vital importance to recreational anglers. This bill amends the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to relieve restrictions on fishery managers and provide some stability for fishermen in terms of annual seasons and/or bag limits.
Congressman Garret Graves had introduced H.R. 2023, the Modern Fish Act, earlier in the year to address challenges recreational fishermen have always faced in the federal fisheries management system. He was joined by a bipartisan list of 24 cosponsors. Original cosponsors include Congressmen Gene Green, Daniel Webster, and Rob Wittman. The Modern Fish Act’s legislative language was ultimately included in H.R. 200.
So what, specifically, does this mean for us as recreational anglers? Here are some highlights.
The bill would require fishery managers in the southeastern U.S. to perform long-overdue examinations of fishery allocations, based on modern criteria. Allocations between the commercial and recreational sectors have often been written in stone and rarely revisited, even as changes occur rapidly in the way fisheries are harvested in the real world.
It would also allow for recreational fisheries to be managed using more appropriate management tools—for example, seasonal closures and bag limits instead of attempting to count hard annual landings of individual species, as is often the case in commercial fisheries. This could be accomplished by modifying the current annual catch limit (ACL) requirement to allow for more adaptive approaches.
This is an extremely important component of the bill, since by law, a fishery must now be shut down completely if a species has been judged to have reached its ACL. H.R. 200 seeks to establish new data collection methods that will improve both fisheries management and conservation. This has long been a point of contention between angler organizations and managers: how we count the recreational catch.
It’s fairly easy to monitor commercial quotas, given the relatively small size of the fleet and the known locations from which they fish. It’s quite another task altogether to monitor millions of recreational anglers, who sail from thousands of different marinas, boat ramps, and private homes around the country.
“For decades, the federal marine fisheries management system has never recognized the importance of recreational fishing,” said Mike Leonard, conservation director of the American Sportfishing Association. “Instead, managers have attempted to manage recreational fishing the same as commercial fishing. Because these are two very different activities, anglers have been operating within a system that wasn’t designed to manage them, resulting in unpredictable and overly precautionary regulations in fisheries all across the country.”
One key goal of the bill centers on the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, the key fishery which has created lingering conflict between federal managers and anglers. The mandatory shutdowns required through ACLs created super-short recreational fishing seasons, often only a few days a year, even as anglers supplied consistent anecdotal reports of more snapper in the water than ever. A clear disconnect between management and reality seemed obvious.
The bill would attempt to allow for improved science and management of the red snapper fishery, of vital importance to charter and private fishermen alike, to both obtain better data and to help relieve the mandatory closures now required by ACLs. Creating and sustaining recreational access to red snapper and other fisheries is another key goal of H.R. 200.
Many of the provisions included in H.R. 200 grew from recommendations formed by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management during lengthy deliberations over the future needs of anglers. This group is commonly known as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group.
The commission released “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” in 2014, a landmark document that included six key policy changes designed to produce the full range of saltwater recreational fishing’s social, economic, and conservation benefits to the nation.
A broad coalition of saltwater recreational fishing and boating organizations have endorsed H.R. 200, which essentially puts saltwater recreational fishing management issues on an equal footing with commercial interests for the first time.
“We are on the verge of a sea change in the way recreational fisheries are managed at the federal level,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “Congress took major steps in 2017 to shape legislation that would update our nation’s primary fishing law and address the challenges facing recreational anglers. While big seas still lie ahead, we are hopeful both chambers of Congress will take action early this year to advance the Modern Fish Act.”
“The Modern Fish Act is a comprehensive set of legislative changes that will finally recognize the importance, and uniqueness, of recreational fishing,” adds Leonard. “The bill will improve recreational fisheries data and allow for better management approaches so that we finally have a federal fisheries management system that works for, and not against, recreational fishermen.”
You can lend your support by texting FISH to 50457. This will take you to a web page, which will enable you to easily send congress a message voicing your support. Even a few messages can go a long way in convincing officials to do the right thing. Passing the Modern Fish Act will help ensure healthy fisheries and fair access to them for generations to come.