Our Seat at the Table

June 21, 2018

Recognizing that saltwater recreational fishing is a major component of coastal tourism throughout the country, including attracting customers for the restaurant industry, anglers are naturally puzzled why some chefs oppose improving federal management of recreational fishing.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is our nation’s primary law governing saltwater fishing in federal waters. It was written in 1976 to end overfishing and last reauthorized in 2007, but MSA has never taken into account the fundamental differences between recreational and commercial fishing practices.

For years, recreational anglers and the recreational fishing industry have been asking Congress for a course correction. Healthy fish stocks benefit all Americans. Yet, as fisheries have rebounded over the years, anglers have seen unnecessarily restrictive regulations because the system was never designed to manage 11 million saltwater recreational anglers.

Through years of deliberation, the priorities of the recreational fishing and boating community were identified and presented to federal policy makers by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management. This group is also referred to as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group. In 2014, the Morris-Deal Commission released “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” which included six key policy changes to expand saltwater recreational fishing’s social, economic and conservation benefits to the nation. Many recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission are addressed by the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (included in H.R. 200/S. 1520).

This bipartisan legislation, more commonly known as the Modern Fish Act, is being considered in both chambers of Congress.

The Modern Fish Act is supported by a broad coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations, conservation groups and industry stakeholders. Supporters of the Modern Fish Act are not looking to weaken conservation laws but rather add tools to the fisheries management toolbox.

Unfortunately, some commercial fishermen and chefs are being used by the powerful environmental lobby who prefer the status quo and seek to eliminate recreational opportunities on the water for millions of American families. These commercial fishermen and chefs fail to acknowledge that recreational fisheries management can be improved without harming the U.S. seafood industry, as is the case with the Modern Fish Act. In claiming – inaccurately – that the Modern Fish Act somehow threatens the U.S. seafood supply, they also fail to point out that 90 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported anyway.

While the angling public enjoys catching a few fish for themselves each year, we are still friends, neighbors and customers of the commercial seafood industry and seafood restaurants. Instead of alienating a good portion of the public, we encourage chefs to read the commonsense provisions of the Modern Fish Act.

The Modern Fish Act adds to the suite of tools fisheries managers can use to more appropriately manage the recreational sector with accurate data and science-based annual catch limits. The recreational fishing community relies on healthy fish stocks for a vibrant future. Every user group wants healthy stocks.

America’s saltwater recreational anglers catch only 2 percent of the finfish taken from our oceans each year and yet account for billions of dollars of economic impact on that 2 percent. With the proper management tools, there can be a place at the table for anglers, as well as commercial harvesters and chefs.

Jeff Angers is president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy, a nonpartisan organization focused on maximizing opportunity for America’s saltwater recreational anglers.