The Fisheries Protection and Management Act

While individual states are responsible for freshwater fisheries management within their borders, saltwater fisheries are monitored by the federal government. Until recently, the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was the primary federal law defining this oversight.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (MSA), originally incorporated into the law in 1976, arose out of concerns about the status of coastal fish stocks, the need to prevent overfishing and the protection of essential habitats. The law was amended in 1996 and approved again in 2007.

One of the stated goals of this fisheries management law was to promote domestic commercial and recreational fishing based on sound principles of conservation and management. The main measures of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act are to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase economic and social benefits, and ensure the availability of safe and sustainable seafood.

There has been a great deal of disagreement about whether the MSA has or is achieving these goals for all affected species, as well as the methods and data used. In addition, many individuals and organizations feel that the recreational fishing sector has been overlooked and / or changed in the short term in subsequent federal policies and measures. A leading recreational fishing advocate, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), says federal action under the MSA has resulted in “shortened or even canceled seasons, reduced pocket limits, and unnecessary restrictions.

After saltwater fishing grew to 11 million participants per year, an economic output of $ 70 billion and the support of over 450,000 jobs, the Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Management Committee was formed in 2013 to recommend a new path forward . In February 2014, the commission published its report, A Vision for Management of American Recreational Saltwater Fisheries. The report focused on the re-approval of the Magnuson-Stevens Law to Conserve and Manage Fisheries in six key areas:

  • Establish a national policy for recreational saltwater fishing
  • Adopt a revised approach to the management of recreational saltwater fishing
  • Allocation of marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation
  • Allow adequate margin for inventory rebuilding schedules
  • Codification of a process for cooperative management
  • Administration for the feed base

This report was widely acclaimed and formed the core of federal laws introduced in the House and Senate in 2017, and ultimately the Recreational Fisheries Management Modernization Act of 2018 now known as the Modern Fish Act. Essentially an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (amending, adding, or repealing some sections of the MSA) that was incorporated into the Act on December 31, 2018. Proponents hope this will lead to an improvement in saltwater recreational fishing management.

The Modern Fish Act adopted many, if not all, of the recommendations of the Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Management Commission. For example, in the southeastern United States, regular studies of how fisheries are divided between the commercial and recreational sectors were not required. However, ASA Committee on Government Affairs Chairman Gary Zurn noted, “With the passage of the Modern Fish Act, Congress is providing the NOAA fisheries with a direction for a variety of actions that will ultimately result in more stable fisheries regulations and better management and control Conservation of our seas will lead to fishing.

According to the ASA, the specific measures of the Modern Fish Act include:

  • Clarified NOAA fisheries’ power to use management approaches that are more appropriate for recreational fishing
  • Improve the collection of leisure harvest data by asking federal managers to investigate additional data sources that have tremendous potential for improving the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as: B. State-controlled programs and electronic reporting (e.g. via smartphone apps)
  • Need for a study of how mixed fisheries allocations can and should be regularly reviewed by the regional fisheries management councils of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico
  • Need for a study of restricted access programs (catch shares), including an assessment of the social, economic and environmental impact of the programs

Some see this as the first, albeit positive, measure to address concerns in the recreational fishing community. Patrick Murray, President of the Coastal Conservation Association, said: “There is still a lot to be done, but this is a valuable first step. We are confident that this will open the door to an ongoing discussion of tools and practices that can be developed to better manage recreational fishing in federal waters in all regions of the United States.


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