Modern Fish Act Progress Report

January 21, 2020

As published in Soundings Trade Only.

It’s been a little more than a year since President Trump signed the Modern Fish Act, the bipartisan legislation that seeks to change how recreational saltwater fisheries are managed at the federal level.

Seeing exactly how legislation is implemented can be difficult, so the Center for Sportfishing Policy released a ranking system today that shows anglers and stakeholders where the government is getting things right and where it is falling short.

“We always knew the road to change would be a bumpy one. When dealing with the layers of fisheries management — Department of Commerce, regional councils, Congress and the states — change takes time and a lot of persistence,” CSP president Jeff Angers told Trade Only Today. “We will ensure this opportunity for significant, positive change in federal fisheries management is not lost in the quagmire of bureaucracy.”

The Modern Fish Act is the most significant step forward in federal recreational saltwater fishing management in the 40-plus years of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the bill that dictates how federal fisheries are managed, Angers said.

“All laws have multiple sections and provisions that different elements of the government need to act on to engage, and as you would expect, career folks that work for any agency like doing things the way they’ve always done things,” said Angers. “When you’re told by Congress to do things differently, it’s difficult.”

CSP ranks the government on how it has instituted sections 101, 102, 103, 201 and 202 of the Modern Fish Act.

The only section with a green ranking is section 101, the part of the bill that calls for a Government Accountability Office study on allocation review. That section requires the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the process of allocation of populations sought by commercial and recreational anglers.

The single section ranked red — the worst possible rating — was section 201. That part of the bill calls for improvement in federal-state cooperative data collection.

“This section calls on the federal government to analyze what data is out there and to analyze how they might use it better,” Angers said.

That means the federal government isn’t doing a good enough job of weighing state-collected data on fish stocks when setting seasons, he said.

For example, Gulf of Mexico states have been collecting data from recreational anglers who fish red snapper to make more accurate estimates of the overall stock and the impact of recreational fishing. Since the number of anglers that target snapper is smaller, data from this tighter group is more accurate, Angers said.

However, state data is not being used in federal stock assessments, he said. “If the data is good enough to increase number of fishing days in the Gulf of Mexico from three to 30 in all states, it should be calibrated and put into the federal assessment,” Angers said. “If the data is good enough to allow Alabama to set a season at 42 days, then it’s worthy enough to be calibrated for inclusion in the nationwide Gulf population assessments. It’s good enough to help the agency know more about all of the fisheries where there’s robust participation, and help them manage not only this fishery but others.”