On Monday, President Trump put his pen to a piece of bipartisan legislation authored by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) which goes a significant way toward cleaning up the abject mess the federal government has made of recreational fishing in places like the Gulf of Mexico. That was the Modern Fish Act, which passed unanimously in the Senate and earned a 350-11 majority in the House last year.
What does the bill do? A contact in the recreational fishing industry shared his thoughts…
“The bill gives federal fisheries managers much more ability to use management programs designed for recreational fishing instead of being forced to take commercial fishing management and force it on recreational fishermen.
“An example would be Louisiana’s LACREEL system, which is arguably the best recreational fishing management system in the country right now. Instead of having to go begging the Commerce Dept and getting dispensation from the law to use a system like that, the law now allows programs like LACREEL to be used. It also will give states much more say in management.
“State agencies are much better at recreational fishing management than the feds. This allows more state data to be used. It examines allocations between commercial and recreational fishing to make sure the economic and cultural aspects of the fishery are being maximized. It also calls for an examination of any new privatization efforts to make sure that those schemes aren’t hurting the economic and cultural value of the fish. Called Catch Shares or Individual Fishing Quotas, they are the darlings of some enviro groups because they put control of the public resource in the hands of a small, often hand-picked group of fishermen who then get to control access while making a bunch of money.
“It works in some large commercial fisheries. It’s a terrible idea in recreational fisheries where the maximum benefit is having as many people fish as possible to take home a few to eat. Anything to slow down the creation of new catch shares, especially in the Gulf and South Atlantic is a good thing.
“Passing the bill is a good step forward. First time federal fisheries law allows managers some latitude to recognize the differences between recreational and commercial fishing and manage them differently. It’s a big step forward. And frankly, passage would be highly unlikely in this Congress.”
Those sentiments are echoed by members of a pretty broad coalition of groups representing the boating industry and recreational fishermen, including the 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 and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Some other elements of what the bill does…
- Providing authority and direction to NOAA Fisheries to apply additional management tools more appropriate for recreational fishing, many of which are successfully implemented by state fisheries agencies (e.g., extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities);
- Improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring 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);
- Requiring the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the process of mixed-use fishery allocation review by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils and report findings to Congress within one year of enactment of the Modern Fish Act, and
- Requiring the National Academies of Sciences to complete a study and provide recommendations within two years of the enactment of the Modern Fish Act on limited access privilege programs (catch shares) including an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the program, considering each sector of a mixed-use fishery and related businesses, coastal communities, and the environment and an assessment of any impacts to stakeholders in a mixed-use fishery caused by a limited access privilege program. This study excludes the Pacific and North Pacific Regional Fishery Management Councils.
We’ve posted before about previous federal fisheries policy, which did a very poor job of delineating the difference between commercial and recreational fishing, which for things like red snapper fishing made for hilariously stupid regulations. Not all of those problems are going away thanks to this bill, but a lot will.
So hopefully, when the rain finally stops and the weather warms up a little, later this year some of us will be able to hop in a boat, putter down to some offshore rigs and drop a hook in the water to catch a few red snapper – or something else – like we used to, thanks to this bill making things a little less ridiculous out in the Gulf.