House passes recreational fishery bill; Rep. Young votes against

The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, 19 December, and now heads to President Trump’s desk for his consideration.

Two days after the Senate voted unanimously to pass a revised version of the legislation U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) proposed, the House’s vote, too, was overwhelming. However, in the 350-11 tally one name stood out among the “No” votes: U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

Young served as the primary sponsor to a Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bill in the House that had many of the same provisions for recreational fisheries that were included in S. 1520, Wicker’s bill. However, Young did not approve of a piecemeal approach in pursuing changes to the fishing industry.

“After H.R. 200 passed out of the House in July, Congressman Young worked to ensure any fisheries legislation that gained support would have meaningful updates for both the recreational and commercial sectors,” Murphy McCullough, the Alaska representative’s spokeswoman, said to SeafoodSource. “With regard to S. 1520 - in general, he doesn’t believe that passing individual fisheries bills is the best path forward to achieve comprehensive MSA reform, hence his vote. Passing a bill like Congressman Young’s MSA reauthorization ensures that Congress doesn’t overlook important concerns or make any detrimental changes that would impact fisheries.”

Commercial fishing groups likewise spoke out after the House’s vote. They said Wicker’s bill, which had been stripped of some provisions that raised the ire of commercial fishermen, just amends Magnuson-Stevens and doesn’t reauthorize the law that governs the country’s fishing regulations.

Magnuson-Stevens was enacted into law in 1976. The last reauthorization came in 2006. With the 115th Congress about to end, the process to pass a reauthorization bill would start anew next month.

“We certainly hope the passage of this bill doesn’t reduce the incentive for the 116th Congress to work with the seafood industry on legislation to reauthorize the MSA in ways that will enhance the law and benefit fishing communities throughout the U.S.,” West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Lori Steele said. “The need for such legislation remains.”

Among the items Wicker’s bill covers include: allowing NOAA Fisheries to seek out other data sources for recreational catch totals, giving the agency the ability to manage recreational fisheries in a way sportfishing advocates say is more appropriate to the sector, and requesting a study on how allocations need to be reviewed by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils.

Trump has 10 days to consider signing the bill into law. While the possibility of a veto exists, including a pocket veto where the president does nothing with the bill and Congress can’t reconvene in time to override the action, sportfishing advocates are still celebrating the votes from this week.

Gary Zurn, senior vice president at Big Rock Sports and chair of the American Sportfishing Association’s Government Affairs Committee, said anglers have been frustrated by “sudden” closures and inconsistent federal regulations.

“Through passage of (Wicker’s bill), 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,” he said.

Like the commercial sector, the recreational industry is also working for other legislation to come out of the next congress.

Mike Leonard, ASA’s vice president of government affairs, told SeafoodSource that in addition to a Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization, the group would pursue reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act and seek to pass a driftnet modernization and bycatch reduction bill.

Wicker’s bill “is not the end-point, but rather a major step toward evolving federal marine fisheries management in a way that recognizes the importance of saltwater recreational fishing to the nation,” he said.


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