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fisheries allocations by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regional fishery management councils — which often use outdated data, lack relevance, are unrealistic, or all three — and report its assessment to Congress within a year of the act taking effect.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