New Bill Will Finally Modernize America’s Fisheries

A new piece of legislation introduced last month is aiming to modernize America’s fisheries across 11 states.

Known as the Modern Fish Act, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 aims to modernize recreational fisheries management. Many recreational fishing groups and corresponding businesses believe it’s time to accurately address limitations placed on saltwater recreational fishing opportunities at the federal level–which has previously cut off public access to federal waters and subsequently hurt businesses in the fishing industry.

Introduced by Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA), the Modern Fish Act (H.R.2023) was referred to the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans on April 20, 2017. Fellow co-sponsors include Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA), Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), and Rep. Jeff Duncan — all representatives of states which sit on either the Gulf Coast or Atlantic Ocean.

The current law in place, the Magnuson Stevens Act, has resulted in cancelled fishing seasons, reduced catch limits, and placed undue burdens on anglers. The goals of this legislation are aimed at addressing the shortcomings of NOAA (or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), which currently oversees federal fisheries:

1.  Improve angler harvest data – It would require federal managers to explore other data sources that have tremendous potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic reporting (e.g., through smartphone apps).

2.  Require reviews of who gets the fish – It would require fisheries managers to finally provide a long-overdue review of how fishing quotas for individual species are divided between the recreational and commercial sectors. Rather than being based on decades-old decisions, the Modern Fish Act would establish clear, objective criteria upon which these decisions could be based, and require periodic review to ensure these allocations are working.

3.  Recognize the importance recreational fishing – Even though recreational and commercial fishing are fundamentally different, they are basically managed the same way at the federal level. The Modern Fish Act will authorize NOAA to use management strategies that have been successful at the state level.

“Private citizens who like to fish are on the losing end of the federal government’s failure to bring the way it manages our nation’s waters up to speed with the information age,” said Rep. Graves. “Our bill is designed to fix that. By leveraging technology and data collection capabilities that already exist, we can use real-time information to improve fisheries management decision-making and enjoy the flexibility that comes with being informed by accurate numbers. By modernizing federal fisheries policy, the Modern Fish Act will let us practice data-driven sustainability, get more people out to enjoy recreational fishing and unlock economic growth for coastal communities that rely so heavily on fishing activities.”

In an email to The Resurgent, Jeff Angers of the Center for Sportfishing Policy equally praised the legislation.

“Our nation’s recreational fisheries are being terribly mismanaged at the federal level due to policies that were never designed to manage the recreational sector,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “The negative effects on recreational anglers and the businesses they support such as tackle shops and manufacturers, marinas and motels, can be seen in multiple regions of the country.”

“The bipartisan Modern Fish Act would provide real solutions and increased access for anglers by promoting the use of modern technology to obtain more accurate data on fish stocks and by allowing regulators to use proven alternative management techniques,” Angers continued. “The time is now to fix these broken federal fisheries policies to get more Americans back on the water and enjoying our nation’s natural marine treasures.”

Many outdoor organizations have chimed in on the need for the modernization of America’s fisheries.

“We’re extremely grateful for Congressmen Graves, Green, Webster and Wittman for introducing this legislation that provides sensible solutions for anglers perpetually stuck in a commercial fisheries management paradigm,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “This legislation will allow federal management under MSA to finally embrace recreational fishing on the same level as commercial fisheries, promote access to America’s marine fisheries resources and fully realize the economic benefits of saltwater recreational fishing to the nation.”

“We applaud the introduction of the Modern Fish Act in the House and the efforts of Rep. Graves and his colleagues to modernize the federal regulations governing access to the public’s natural resources by boaters and anglers,” said National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich in a statement. “We appreciate the Congressmen’s support for better management of our recreational fisheries that will bring federal management into the 21st century.”

Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association, said the bill is “a pathway to better management of America’s marine fisheries in the future.”

The groups who have touted the Modern Fish Act include American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, The Billfish Foundation World Fishing Network, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

This is long overdue. Let’s hope Congress can address this in a timely manner!