Recre­ational fish­ing rules to be over­hauled un­der new law

Centre Daily Times - - Weather - BY PA­TRICK WHIT­TLE

The rules that gov­ern recre­ational marine fish­ing in the U.S. will get an over­haul due to a new law passed by Con­gress, and the coun­try’s mil­lions of an­glers and the groups that stake their liveli­hoods on them hope the changes will bring bet­ter man­age­ment.

The new stan­dards are part of a suite of changes that pro­po­nents call the Mod­ern Fish Act that were ap­proved by the House and Se­nate in De­cem­ber. Sup­port­ers of the new rules have said they will boost an in­dus­try that con­trib­utes bil­lions to the econ­omy, though some mem­bers of the fish­ing in­dus­try felt deeper rule changes were war­ranted.

The pas­sage is a “big step to­ward im­ple­ment­ing science-based meth­ods” and “marks the first sub­stan­tial up­date to the fed­eral fish­eries man­age­ment sys­tem in more than a decade,” said Ni­cole Vasi­laros, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Marine Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a boat­ing in­dus­try trade group.

The author of the pro­posal, Mis­sis­sippi Re­pub­li­can Sen. Roger Wicker, said one of the key fea­tures of the law is that it prom­ises to help the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­cor­po­rate data from fish­er­men, which he said would im­prove time­li­ness and ac­cu­racy. The data help in­form fish­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions.

The pro­posal also en­cour­ages re­gional fish­ery man­age­ment coun­cils to up­date poli­cies for some recre­ational an­glers who fish in the Gulf of Mex­ico, one of the most pop­u­lar bod­ies of wa­ter among sport fish­er­men. The cur­rent rules are de­signed for com­mer­cial fish­er­men and are dif­fi­cult for recre­ational an­glers to fol­low, Wicker said. There are also a host of other tweaks de­signed to more ef­fi­ciently man­age recre­ational fish­ing.

“Pas­sage of the Mod­ern Fish Act will boost our con­ser­va­tion ef­forts and ben­e­fit the lo­cal economies that de­pend on recre­ational fish­ing,” Wicker said.

Recre­ational fish­ing is a huge in­dus­try in the U.S., with trade groups tout­ing more than 40 mil­lion li­censed fish­er­men and an im­pact on the econ­omy well above $100 bil­lion. A re­port re­leased by NOAA ear­lier this month said the recre­ational fish­ing in­dus­try fu­eled more than 472,000 jobs in 2016, up from 420,000 in 2012.

Mem­bers of the Marine Fish Con­ser­va­tion Net­work, a coali­tion of com­mer­cial and recre­ational fish­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and oth­ers, said the fi­nal ver­sion of the bill was “an im­prove­ment” from where it started, when it faced op­po­si­tion from con­ser­va­tion­ists and in­dus­try mem­bers. How­ever, Con­gress still needs to reau­tho­rize the Mag­nu­son-Stevens Act, the fed­eral stan­dards that gov­ern U.S. fish­eries at large, the group said.

“Our hope is that the 116th Con­gress will con­tinue to work across the aisle to se­cure a pros­per­ous fu­ture for the peo­ple, busi­nesses and com­mu­ni­ties that rely on our marine fish­eries,” the group said in a state­ment.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump also re­leased a state­ment on New Year’s Eve say­ing he was sign­ing the act into law, but adding that the new laws grow the power of re­gional fish­ery man­age­ment coun­cils that op­er­ate along the na­tion’s coasts. He said that raises “con­sti­tu­tional con­cerns.”

Some con­ser­va­tion groups her­alded the pas­sage of the laws as a win. Matt Tin­ning, as­so­ciate vice pres­i­dent for the oceans pro­gram of the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund, said the Mod­ern Fish Act started out as a po­ten­tial threat to con­ser­va­tion goals but mor­phed into an en­vi­ron­men­tally-sound law over a year of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“We can all be proud to have reached agree­ment on a bill that re­sponds to the de­mands of recre­ational fish­ing ad­vo­cates with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing ei­ther sus­tain­abil­ity or Amer­i­cans’ ac­cess to lo­cal seafood,” he said.

GER­ALD HER­BERT AP

Tim Hitchens, of Gulf­prort, Miss., pulls in a fish while fish­ing from a pier in the Gulf of Mex­ico on Sept. 5, 2018.

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