As published in Washington Examiner.
With the summer season in full swing, millions of American families are taking to the nation’s waters to enjoy one of America’s greatest pastimes: saltwater recreational fishing. From one generation to the next, fishing has brought families and friends together to form unique bonds and create lasting memories in the great outdoors.
At the same time, this tradition is being eroded by outdated federal policies and faulty scientific data that places more than a family tradition at stake. The saltwater recreational fishing industry supports 439,242 American jobs and has a $63.4 billion economic impact annually. Fortunately, Congress is taking steps to safeguard this beloved pastime with a bill to ensure more access to federal waters for the nation’s anglers.
Many of the problems plaguing saltwater recreational anglers stem from the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 1976 law governing federal fisheries management. Administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Magnuson-Stevens does not distinguish well between recreational and commercial fishing, even though these are fundamentally different activities with vastly different economic footprints.
That fatal flaw is evident in the law’s enforcement of “maximum sustainable yield” and tonnage-based “annual catch limits,” which are easily applied to the commercial sector but impractical for the recreational sector.
The poster fish for federal fisheries mismanagement is Gulf of Mexico red snapper. Long one of the most popular species for sportfishermen, the season for red snapper in the federally controlled waters of the Gulf of Mexico has been systematically reduced in recent years from six months to a 2017 season of just three days — a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That’s just one weekend day for all of the folks who work Monday through Friday.
Thankfully, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and several Members of Congress saw the absurdity of this short recreational season and extended it for 39 weekend days during this summer. But that decision applies only to the 2017 season. A permanent fix must be enacted by Congress to end this illogical burden on America’s recreational anglers and the economies they support.
Restrictions like those placed on the Gulf red snapper are based on outdated scientific techniques that neglect the more accurate data collected at the state level. Objective observers will tell you the conclusions reached by NOAA about the health of various fish stocks are simply inaccurate. Due to NOAA’s strict interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, they fail to accurately measure the success of recreational anglers by using methods designed to monitor commercial operators.
The reluctance in past years to update these federal policies has denied American families fishing access to some of the most popular species and hampered growth of coastal businesses and manufacturers nationwide who depend on them.
Fortunately, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have seen enough. Last month, Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; John Kennedy, R-La.; and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; introduced companion legislation to a House bill drafted in April: the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, also known as the Modern Fish Act. If passed, this landmark legislation will address the most serious challenges facing the nation’s 11 million saltwater recreational anglers.
The Modern Fish Act will improve access to federal waters by modernizing fisheries management and data collection techniques. It would also promote conservation efforts, which depend on the $1.5 billion in excise taxes, fees and donations that are contributed annually to conservation efforts by the recreational fishing industry.
With passage of the Modern Fish Act, recreational anglers who fish federal waters would see the frustrations of unwarranted restrictions relieved by practical, modern management approaches; thousands of businesses supported by saltwater recreational fishing would experience a much-needed boost; and the conservation of our natural resources would be ensured by improved data collection. These are outcomes every American can support.
Jeff Angers is President of the Center for Sportfishing Policy, a nonpartisan organization focused on maximizing opportunity for America’s saltwater recreational anglers.