Sportfishing interests making late push for agenda in US Senate

Published on
November 21, 2018

With possibly just three weeks remaining in the 2018 U.S. Congressional calendar, recreational fishing supporters are making a last-minute push in hopes of getting at least part of their agenda passed before the end of the year.

Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group, wrote a guest op-ed for The Hill earlier this week urging Congress to pass legislation that he said would modernize fishing regulations and open opportunities for anglers in federal waters. 

“Because federal law has never considered the fundamental differences between recreational and commercial fishing practices, federal fisheries management problems facing anglers have been snowballing for decades,” Deal wrote. “Those problems are impediments to participation in sportfishing. How can we engage the next generation of anglers when the federal rules unnecessarily stand in the way?”

Much of what Deal and others sought was included in H.R. 200, which the House passed in July. However, that bill has languished in the Senate as it has remained in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation since then.

While recreational industry leaders, like most others, admit that chances of a Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization getting through the 115th Congress are next-to-none, the American Sportfishing Association and other groups have set their sights on a new bill, where they hope some provisions can be included by amendments.

“We’re optimistic that the recreational fishing community’s priorities for improving federal fisheries management, which are contained in the Modern Fish Act, could be included in a public lands bill or another package that gets signed into law before the Congress adjourns,” Mike Leonard, the ASA’s vice president of government affairs, told SeafoodSource. “We know that our legislative champions like U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker are working hard at making that happen.”

In a statement to SeafoodSource, Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said he is working with members of both the Commerce and the Environment and Public Works Committees.

“The Modern Fish legislation and other proposals I have championed would boost our conservation efforts and benefit the local economies that depend on recreational fishing,” he said. “I will pursue all options to get these proposals through Congress and onto President Trump’s desk.”

One of Wicker’s bills is raising red flags among commercials fishing groups, who are speaking out against Congress passing it during the lame-duck session. In February, the Commerce Committee passed S. 1520, which had several Democratic senators signed on as co-sponsors.

That full Senate, however, has yet to vote on that bill.

“While both provide significant cultural and economic benefits to the nation, recreational fishing and commercial fishing are different activities,” the bill states. “Therefore, management approaches should be adapted to the characteristics of each sector.”

Greg DiDomenico, executive director of the Garden State Seafood Association, told SeafoodSource he’s particularly concerned about current language in the bill that would require two-year rebuilding plans for overfished stocks. If the rebuild doesn’t happen within that timeframe, any new management plan for that fishery would need to ensure a 75 percent chance for a successful rebuild.

Garden State has taken to social media to speak out against the sportfishing’s last-minute push, claiming the bill would harm the commercial industry and that few people really know what’s in Wicker’s bill.

“There’s no reason to burden this industry more than it already has,” said DiDomenico, who had led the New Jersey-based organization for 13 years. “Don’t do things that are punitive to us. It’s really a very small ask.”

The current schedule has the House of Representatives finished in Washington by 13 December, and the Senate term completed by the following day. However, it’s possible an extension could happen in either or both chambers.

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