The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the primary statute governing fishing activities in federal waters. Last reauthorized in 2007, the Act expired at the end of fiscal year 2013 and is currently undergoing reauthorization. While the Act has made considerable headway in ending overfishing, the commercial model of management on which the Act is based is unnecessarily restrictive for recreational anglers. Since the last reauthorization, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Members have stressed the importance of recreational angling and the need for managing the recreational sector in a way that is more appropriate and effective based on the available data in the next reauthorization of MSA.
MSA is implemented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service through the Regional Fishery Management Councils. In 2007, MSA was reauthorized and amended to require implementation of annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) on every NOAA fishery by December 31, 2011.
Although these provisions were intended to end overfishing and improve fisheries management, because NOAA did not collect the necessary fisheries data on the majority of the fish stocks it manages, the arbitrary 12/31/11 deadline ultimately forced NOAA to set hundreds of strict catch limits based on inadequate data. On May 21, 2013 Chris Horton, Midwestern States Director for the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF), testified before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee during an oversight hearing on “Data collection issues in relation to the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act”. The focal point of Horton's testimony before the subcommittee was twofold: recreational saltwater anglers are an important and significant component of our nation's marine fisheries, and that commercial and recreational fisheries are fundamentally different activities, with dissimilar harvest data collection systems and thus require different management approaches.
Another fundamental problem is the way NOAA Fisheries interprets the ACL’s and AM’s required by MSA, which is to design fisheries management plans around poundage quotas. For a commercial fishery, this system is sensible. The number of commercial fishermen and their ports of call are limited and their catch can be counted with certainty. Actual recreational harvest in pounds; however, is difficult to determine. Overly cautious estimates of pounds harvested are often recorded, resulting in unnecessarily short seasons. For example, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper season was limited to only nine days in 2014, despite the healthiest population of red snapper in recorded history, further indicating that managing recreational anglers on a commercial-based system is not only ineffective, but punitive.
On May 29, 2014, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee approved H.R. 4742 the House version of the MSA reauthorization entitled the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. Unfortunately for the recreational fishing community, it fails to address the top priorities previously outlined in “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” a report by the Johnny Morris/Scott Deal Commission. This report addresses the needs of anglers and the industry, while enhancing the full-range of economic, social and conservation benefits recreational angling provides to the nation.
In June 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1335, a bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary statute governing the nation’s marine fisheries. reflects many of the recommendations of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, also known as the Morris-Deal Commission named after co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boats.
Key provisions in H.R. 1335 supported by the recreational fishing community include:
• Promoting a more transparent and science-based review of fishery allocations;
• Helping ensure that important fisheries aren’t closed unnecessarily by providing limited exceptions for annual catch limits;
• Improving the accuracy of fish stock information through greater involvement by the states and incorporating data collected by anglers themselves.
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