This past year the fishing law of this nation, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), was revised focusing on recreational provisions to the law.
Two bill versions of what was commonly called the Modern Fish Act, one in the U.S. House (H.R. 2023) and a different second version in the Senate (S. 1520) were introduced. Additionally, H.R.200, which included pieces of the Modern Fish Act was introduced as well.
The good news is that H.R. 200, which passed the House on mostly party lines, did not gain any traction in the Senate. The bill contained many harmful provisions to fish conservation which would have made it harder to grow fish to abundance so there are more in the water for all to catch and eat.
Additionally, at the end of the Senate session, as the Senate was considering their version of the Modern Fish Act (S.1520), our Senators in New England working with Senators across the country had most of the anti-conservation provisions contained in the bill removed before its passage.
Although the Senate bill S. 1520 is not perfect, and some smaller issues still remain, the bill was significantly changed to remove the most objectionable provisions that were originally in the bill at introduction. This was done through bipartisan discussion to advocate for a bill that aimed to preserve conservation provisions that have proven to grow fish to abundance.
In particular, the bill removed language that would have required a mandatory allocation review process for the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic councils that would have been overly burdensome and prevented the Councils from attending to other important conservation and management issues.
Harmful provisions deleted from S. 1520 have allowed important conservation provisions to prevail in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Annual catch limit requirements are still in place, conservation measures needed to regulate overfished species are still in place, we will continue to have a balanced process to address reallocation of catch from sectors moving forward, and fishers will still have the ability to utilize Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) as a way to explore new and innovative management tools.
Meredith Moore, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation program, said, “When first introduced, we had real concerns that this bill would hamstring efforts to sustainably manage fisheries, including the recreational fisheries it intended to help. Thanks to the leadership of a bipartisan group of Senators willing to work cooperatively across the aisle, these harmful provisions have been removed from S. 1520. We look forward to working with these Senators next year to ensure we have healthy fisheries that can support fishing businesses, our ocean ecosystems, and access to our natural resources for future generations.”
Advocates for the Modern Fish Act, seemed to be please about the bills bipartisan passage as well.
Gary Zurn, senior vice president at Big Rock Sports and chairman of the American Sportfishing Association’s (ASA) Government Affairs Committee said, “Through passage of the Modern Fish Act, Congress is providing direction to NOAA Fisheries on a variety of policies that will ultimately lead to more stable fishing regulations, and better management and conservation of our marine fisheries.”
In a press release last month the ASA said, “The bill still helps to address many of top priorities for improving federal marine fisheries management”.
ASA said Bill provisions include clarifying the authority of NOAA Fisheries to apply management approaches more appropriate for recreational fishing; improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring federal managers to explore additional data sources to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic recording; requiring a study on how mixed-use fishery allocations can and should be periodically reviewed by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils; and a study on limited access privilege programs including an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the programs.
This win for fish conservation would not have been possible without the tremendous effort of conservation-minded Senators in New England and the nation. Our sustainable fisheries champions in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have done tremendous work over the past two years to negotiate language changes, doing a great job to ensure a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act.
This is not the last we will hear of bills that make changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act. In 2019, we are hopeful for more bipartisan cooperation in the name of sustainable fishing. If and when reauthorization comes up in 2019, we are in good hands with our federally-elected representatives here in New England.
In 2018 bipartisan collaboration paid off for the fish and fishermen throughout the United States of America. We just need to keep this bipartisan approach moving forward.