Vic­tory Lap

Saltwater Sportsman - - Contents - GLENN LAW

EE The best news of the past year ar­rived in De­cem­ber, with the pas­sage of the Mod­ern­iz­ing Recre­ational Fish­eries Man­age­ment Act of 2017, bet­ter known as the Mod­ern Fish Act.

We’ve cov­ered this is­sue of­ten in the past four years, so this may be the last time, but at least we’re al­lowed a vic­tory lap.

The im­pe­tus for the bill came in the spring of 2014 with the Mor­ris-deal re­port, which es­tab­lished pa­ram­e­ters for re­vis­ing the Depart­ment of Com­merce’s ap­proach to fish­eries to in­clude the con­cerns of recre­ational an­glers.

That prompted a re­sponse from NOAA, a fed­eral pol­icy on recre­ational salt­wa­ter fish­eries — the first ever — as pol­icy had un­til then fo­cused strictly on com­mer­cial fish­eries, with recre­ational an­glers’ in­ter­ests and needs lit­tle more than an an­cil­lary af­ter­thought.

The pas­sage of the Mod­ern Fish Act on the heels of the Fed­eral Fish­eries Man­age­ment Pol­icy fi­nally seats an­glers at the ta­ble in man­age­ment de­ci­sions, with full con­sid­er­a­tion of the con­cerns of recre­ational an­glers, dis­tinct from those of com­mer­cial fish­ing, and a full recog­ni­tion of the eco­nomic vi­tal­ity and con­tri­bu­tion of the recre­ational in­dus­try.

It’s about time: There are 11 mil­lion of us, pro­vid­ing $63 bil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact an­nu­ally and gen­er­at­ing 440,000 jobs. We pro­vide an ad­di­tional $1.3 bil­lion through ex­cise taxes and li­cens­ing fees, most of which ben­e­fits con­ser­va­tion, boat­ing safety and ac­cess, and habi­tat restora­tion.

The act, after its tweak­ing by both houses of Con­gress, emerged as less than per­fect: It does not ad­dress global warm­ing, nor habi­tat pro­tec­tion. It won’t guar­an­tee your dou­ble-skinny latte will be served at a per­fect 164 de­grees. But it gives the recre­ational an­gler a voice and rights in the fed­eral fish­eries man­age­ment de­ci­sions and har­nesses the strengths of the Mag­nu­son-stevens Act to­ward a more eq­ui­table in­clu­sion of recre­ational fish­ing pri­or­i­ties. That’s a sea change.

In par­tic­u­lar, the Mod­ern Fish Act al­lows NOAA Fish­eries to adopt man­age­ment tools ap­pro­pri­ate for recre­ational fish­ing, many of which are al­ready in use and proven by in­di­vid­ual states. It re­quires de­vel­op­ing recre­ational catch-data col­lec­tion meth­ods that ac­tu­ally work and im­prove the ac­cu­racy of catch re­port­ing, such as state-ad­min­is­tered pro­grams and elec­tronic re­port­ing.

The Comp­trol­ler Gen­eral is di­rected to re­view fish­eries al­lo­ca­tions by the South At­lantic and Gulf of Mex­ico re­gional fish­ery man­age­ment coun­cils — which of­ten use out­dated data, lack rel­e­vance, are un­re­al­is­tic, or all three — and re­port its as­sess­ment to Con­gress within a year of the act tak­ing ef­fect.

And it de­mands a study of “lim­ited ac­cess priv­i­lege pro­grams,” more com­monly known as catch shares. This is the pro­gram that cur­rently op­er­ates in the Gulf with red snap­per, wherein a few stake­hold­ers own a por­tion of the com­mer­cial al­lo­ca­tion and bro­ker their rights to it for profit. The study must con­sider so­cial, eco­nomic and eco­log­i­cal ef­fects of the pro­gram, and im­pacts on busi­nesses, com­mu­ni­ties and the en­vi­ron­ment.

This was truly a land­mark win, well-fought and hard won.

Suc­cess came through co­op­er­a­tion. Much has been made of the act be­ing a bi­par­ti­san (re­mem­ber that term?) ef­fort in Con­gress, but a num­ber of recre­ational fish­ing in­ter­ests came to­gether as well, set­ting aside in­di­vid­ual man­dates in def­er­ence to a shared goal.

Some chose not to, and they got left in the dust. Those who found com­mon ground got the job done, among them the Amer­i­can Sport­fish­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, Theodore Roo­sevelt Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship, Cen­ter for Sport­fish­ing Pol­icy, Na­tional Ma­rine Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, The Bill­fish Foun­da­tion, Guy Har­vey Ocean Foun­da­tion, Con­gres­sional Sports­men’s Foun­da­tion, Recre­ational Fish­ing Al­liance and the Coastal Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

They and oth­ers de­serve recog­ni­tion and ap­pre­ci­a­tion, as do those of us who sup­port them.

It’s a great model, and it has given us some ef­fec­tive and long-over­due tools to ap­proach the chal­lenges that cer­tainly loom in the new year.

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