US Senate advances bill backed by recreational fishing sector

Published on
March 1, 2018

A U.S. Senate committee passed a bill on Wednesday, 28 February that would increase access for recreational anglers. However, critics claim that it comes at a cost to both the environment and commercial fishermen.

The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 now heads to the full body after the Senate Commerce Committee approved the measure by voice vote. The bill has bipartisan support, with U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida) serving as the primary sponsors.

Supporters said the act improves data collection techniques and reviews quota allocations that had been based on decisions made years ago.

“The bipartisan vote taken by the Senate Commerce Committee today demonstrates the nation’s broad support for federal fisheries management reform,” said Patrick Murray, the president of Coastal Conservation Association, a nonprofit group representing recreational fishermen. “We are proud to work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to advance a common-sense policy that remains true to our conservation goals while promoting access to our nation’s healthy natural resources. We look forward to this important bill receiving quick consideration by the full Senate.”

However, the Environmental Defense Fund said the act, if passed into law, could lead to overfishing. EDF backed its claim with letters from more than 30 commercial fishing organizations and 150 American chefs, all of whom opposed the measure.

“We strongly support real solutions that improve the access and experience of recreational saltwater anglers,” said Matt Tinning, senior director for the EDF’s U.S. Oceans Program. “Unfortunately, S.1520 fails to address the root causes of angler frustration, while undermining regional fishery management and key commercial fisheries, and limiting the use of successful conservation tools like catch shares.”

Robert Vandermark, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, said he was concerned about the creation of new regulations that would reallocate quotas between sectors and put an end to certain management tools, which would cause confusion, he said.

“Instead, we believe that the many issues this legislation is attempting to address should be within the context of a comprehensive, bipartisan [Magnuson-Stevens Act] reauthorization bill; to tackle these management issues through a piecemeal approach caters to the few and not the whole,” he said.

However, members of sportsfishing and boating associations claim the law is needed because commercial fishing isn’t the only economic engine in the industry.

“Today’s action by the Commerce Committee is further evidence that Congress recognizes the economic and societal impact that recreational saltwater fishing has on our nation,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “There are 11 million saltwater anglers in the U.S. who have a USD 63 billion [EUR 51.8 billion] economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs. We applaud the Senate Commerce Committee for taking this important step and call for the full Senate to quickly take action on this legislation.”

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