Angers Op-Ed: Congress has best opportunity in years to reform fisheries management in federal waters

Each year, spring marks the time when millions of Americans get outdoors to enjoy the splendor of our nation’s natural resources. Sadly, for America’s 11 million saltwater recreational anglers, each year brings new disappointment—not by harsh weather conditions or the one that got away—but by ill-designed federal fishing regulations based on bad data and management. Among the challenges faced by America’s saltwater recreational anglers are draconian restrictions on fisheries access; road blocks against the use of modern science to monitor the health of fish stocks; and inconsistent season dates that discourage participation and hamper businesses dependent on sportsmen. Saltwater recreational fishing is one of America’s greatest pastimes and has a national economic footprint of $70 billion per year—an economic benefit worthy of attention.

In early April, a bipartisan group of House members joined together to propose sweeping legislation that if passed will improve the way Americans enjoy our natural marine resources. Led by Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017,” or the Modern Fish Act, will address the challenges that have plagued millions of Americans and businesses for far too long. The bill would go a long way toward bringing management of federal fisheries into the 21st century.

For decades, marine fisheries have been governed by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which was designed to provide oversight of the commercial fishing sector, not the recreational sector. The failure to make this distinction has hindered America’s saltwater anglers for years and kept the recreational fishing industry from performing at its full potential.

Most striking about the federal fisheries management system is how it regularly eliminates opportunities for Americans to share in America’s public resources. The problem largely stems from the federal government’s reliance on unfit methods to collect scientific data on recreational anglers and the fish we pursue. Consistently inaccurate measurements have led government regulators to curtail recreational fishing seasons and limit public access to certain species in federal waters. This action is unwarranted, as many of the fish stocks receiving additional “protection” are thriving, but, nevertheless, families are being left at the dock.

The effects are not only being felt by saltwater recreational anglers. Thousands of businesses—from bait and tackle shops along the coast to retailers and manufacturers across the nation—suffer the consequences of the government’s folly. With their time on the water choked by regulation, boaters and anglers are far less likely to purchase goods and services related to fishing. This has had a chilling impact on business.

Another victim of the system is conservation. America’s sportsmen are the original conservationists, and we fully recognize the importance of keeping healthy, robust stocks of fish and game. A considerable portion of the overall funding for the nation’s conservation efforts is in fact generated by recreational fishing licenses and excise taxes. This should not be taken lightly. It would devastate our natural resources if anglers and boaters—who contribute $1.5 billion annually to fisheries and habitat conservation through excise taxes, donations and license fees—decided to throw in the towel due to lack of access.

The Modern Fish Act addresses each of these serious challenges. This landmark legislation would update federal fisheries management for recreational angling by opening the door to alternative management techniques that would improve public access to America’s federal waters, promote conservation of our natural marine resources and spur economic growth. These are goals every American can support, and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle should do everything in their power to help get Americans back on the water.

Read more at The Hill.