Faulkner Op-Ed: Recreational Fishing Matters to Mississippi and the Nation

As published in the Clarion Ledger.

Each year, 11 million Americans escape to our nation’s salty shores to take part in one of America’s favorite pastimes — fishing.

In Mississippi, saltwater recreational fishing has a total sales impact of $656 million annually and supports 5,511 jobs. As Congress considers updating our nation’s principal fishing law — the Magnuson-Stevens Act — it is important to our state that we pay attention to the challenges facing marine recreational anglers and the marine recreational fishing industry. These challenges have only intensified since the Magnuson-Stevens Act was first passed in 1976.

Thanks to Sen. Roger Wicker, a bill is moving through Congress that would bring much needed modernization to the way recreational fishing is managed in federal waters. Wicker introduced Senate Bill 1520, known as the Modern Fish Act, in July with a bipartisan list of cosponsors including Sen. Thad Cochran. He answered the call of millions of anglers who have felt like an afterthought of the federal government for decades after being forced into a regulatory model designed for commercial fishing.

It is time federal fisheries policies reflect the depth and breadth of the recreational fishing industry and the need for more public access for anglers. As it stands, federal fisheries management is limiting the true economic potential of the recreational fishing industry. With unreasonably short seasons, abrupt fishing closures and inconsistency in setting seasons from year to year, recreational anglers are not fully confident they will have access to America’s public marine resources under the current system.

Retrograde management of recreational fishing guided by the woefully outdated Magnuson-Stevens Act has unnecessarily hamstrung an enormous economic driver. It goes without saying that a major component of saltwater fishing is a boat.

The boat building business is a uniquely American business. Ninety-five percent of boats sold in the United States are made in the United States, and more than 70 percent of boats are bought so owners can fish from them. Confidence of having access to fisheries goes a long way in the decision to purchase a boat. Considering that the recreational boating industry supports more than 650,000 American jobs and annually contributes more than $121 billion to the U.S. economy, Congress should be paying attention.

I spent my entire career in the boating and fishing industry. It is a common misconception that the saltwater fishing economy resides only in coastal communities. I recently sold a company I founded in 2002, NauticStar Boats, operated 300 miles from the coast in Amory. Many of the suppliers I worked with and other businesses in the industry are situated far from the coast in interior, land-locked states.

The marine recreational fishing industry contributes $63 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generates 440,000 American jobs from coast to coast and every state in between.

Beyond their economic impact, recreational anglers and boaters are the backbone of marine conservation. Through license sales and excise taxes paid on fishing equipment and boat motor fuel, anglers and boaters contribute $1.3 billion annually for sportfish conservation and management, boating safety and infrastructure, and habitat restoration. Recreational anglers and boaters are generous with our time and our resources because we care deeply about the culture and memories born from time spent on America’s public waters. We want to ensure healthy fish populations so recreational fishing exists for future generations.

Headlines of restricted access for saltwater anglers abound, especially in our region of the county. As fish stocks have grown, opportunity has dwindled. But this problem has found a solution thanks to Sen. Wicker.

The Modern Fish Act would promote public access for recreational anglers by updating federal regulations to fit recreational fishing. By improving data collection and allowing for proven recreational fishing management approaches, we can find a better balance of angler access and conservation of our natural marine resources.

I want to thank our senator for his leadership on this issue and for standing up for the thousands of workers in our state who depend on recreational fishing for their livelihood and the tens of thousands of anglers who fish from our coast in pursuit of that fish of a lifetime.

Phil Faulkner is a native of Amory, a recreational fisherman and a member of the recreational boating industry for 40 years.