/ Conservation Making Progress
RECREATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS IN MANAGEMENT DECISIONS FINALLY GETTING SOME RESPECT
Earlier this year a lot of fishing folks gathered near Washington, D.C., to work on issues that are valuable to the recreational fishing industry and to you, the participants in saltwater fisheries.
More importantly, there was discussion on how to make sure that our marine resources are sustainably managed and remain accessible to us now and in the future.
This is the third in a series of recreational fishing summits organized by NOAA Fisheries and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and was themed “Improving Opportunity and Stability in Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.” Previous summits were held in 2010 and 2014. This one covered four main topics: innovative management alternatives and approaches; socioeconomics in recreational fisheries management; angler engagement in collaborative data collection and reporting; and expanding recreational fishing opportunity through conservation.
To many of you, this may all sound like a bunch of bureaucratic jargon, and I get that. You are interested in more fish in the water and more opportunity to interact with them. When you peel back a couple of layers of the fisheries language onion, that is exactly what most folks want. Which road you take to get there is where a lot of the discussion focuses.
If we look back at the outcomes from the previous summits, there is reason to be optimistic. At the first summit in 2010, the participants crafted a list of recommended changes and improvements for NOAA Fisheries to implement. Of that list, 90 percent has been completed. During the 2014 summit, additional recommendations were presented to NOAA Fisheries, and 80 percent have been completed to date. More to come.
Even if nothing else is done, and I do not believe that will happen, the recreational fishing community is way ahead of where it was a mere 10 years ago. During the first summit, the head of NOAA Fisheries would say a few words at the beginning and leave. With each new summit, a few more important Washington folks would briefly show up. This year, the head of NOAA Fisheries, Chris Oliver, was there for the entire meeting. His boss, Timothy Gallaudet, the head of NOAA, was there twice. The Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, came and spoke to the summit participants. This event attracted all the right attention, and in D.C., that is the coin of the realm.
Of the four major topics discussed, I am going to focus on the first three, since I believe the recreational industry has already made good continued
strides in the fourth and will continue to do so. It has been obvious to most that managing recreational fisheries is substantially different from commercial fisheries, yet they tend to be viewed through the same management lens. Yes, both need sustainably managed resources, but the reality is that recreational users need high resource abundance to be successful, because we use the least efficient gear. Perhaps alternative management philosophy is the best description. How can managers smooth out the radical swings in seasonal quotas? How do we take advantage of peak stock abundance? How should catch-and-release fisheries be managed where fish purposely left in the water should not be considered unused quota and then susceptible to transfer? Can multiyear or mixed-stock quotas help? All of these were discussed and need to be considered.
Consideration of socioeconomics in the decision-making process is not new, but using it when making management decisions about recreationally important species is less prevalent. I have heard managers express concern that if the per-pound value of fish was the main criteria for allocation, then the recreational community would get all the fish. Well, I’m playing the BS card. First, that is not something that will happen, but the law requires managers to maximize the value to the nation. We have the socioeconomic data; use it to make fair decisions. I have said it before, but socioeconomics should be a mandatory part of allocation decisions.
One of the constant themes during the summit was the need for better catch and effort data for the recreational users. Probably the area of greatest distrust of fisheries managers concerns the collection of catch and effort data through the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). There are certainly instances where the catch data is provably wrong. There are real concerns about how to collect and how to verify angler-reported data, but we have the technology to do it. We simply need to have some pilot programs to figure out the best way to use it.
Were there any major breakthroughs during the summit? Not really. But the true value is the input from a diverse group of fishing interests and the right government officials listening to the comments. All of those happened and will continue the progress we have made. One final and important thought: We don’t even have to rewrite any fisheries law to get these suggested changes done.