The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the primary statute governing fishing activities in federal waters. Last reauthorized in 2007, the Act expired at the end of fiscal year 2013 and is currently undergoing reauthorization. While the Act has made considerable headway in ending overfishing, the commercial model of management on which the Act is based is unnecessarily restrictive for recreational anglers. Since the last reauthorization, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Members have stressed the importance of recreational angling and the need for managing the recreational sector in a way that is more appropriate and effective based on the available data in the next reauthorization of MSA.
MSA is implemented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service through the Regional Fishery Management Councils. In 2007, MSA was reauthorized and amended to require implementation of annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) on every NOAA managed fishery by December 31, 2011.
Although these provisions were intended to end overfishing and improve fisheries management, because NOAA did not collect the necessary fisheries data on the majority of the fish stocks it manages, the arbitrary 12/31/11 deadline ultimately forced NOAA to set hundreds of strict catch limits based on inadequate data. On May 21, 2013 Chris Horton, Midwestern States Director for the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF), testified before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee during an oversight hearing on “Data collection issues in relation to the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act”. The focal point of Horton's testimony before the subcommittee was twofold: recreational saltwater anglers are an important and significant component of our nation's marine fisheries, and that commercial and recreational fisheries are fundamentally different activities, with dissimilar harvest data collection systems and thus require different management approaches.
Another fundamental problem is the way NOAA Fisheries interprets the ACL’s and AM’s required by MSA, which is to design fisheries management plans around poundage quotas. For a commercial fishery, this system is sensible. The number of commercial fishermen and their ports of call are limited and their catch can be counted with certainty. Actual recreational harvest in pounds; however, is difficult to determine. Because of the uncertainty of the data when estimating angler harvest and the tendency to overestimate angler harvest as a precaution, seasons the following year can be unnecessarily short. For example, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper season was originally scheduled to be limited to only three days in 2017, despite the healthiest population of red snapper in recorded history, further indicating that managing recreational anglers on a commercial-based system is not only ineffective, but punitive.
In January 2014, a report called “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” was released by the Johnny Morris-Scott Deal Commission. The report addresses the needs of anglers and the industry, while enhancing the full-range of economic, social and conservation benefits recreational angling provides to the nation.
MSA is currently in the reauthorization process, and the recreational community worked diligently to have the following provisions included in the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (H.R. 2023 /S. 1520 ). These bills would amend antiquated provisions of MSA to enhance recreational fisheries management and access while also improving conservation measures. Notable provisions within these bills include:
- Alternative Recreational Fisheries Management – Although the current version of MSA does not preclude a different management approach, the reauthorized version should specifically direct NMFS and the Regional Fisheries Management Councils to consider managing recreational anglers based on harvest rates (similar to inland fisheries management), rather than a hard poundage quota, for recreationally valuable fish stocks.
- Allocations – In many mixed-sector fisheries, allocations between commercial and recreational fisheries are often decades old and do not reflect current social, economic or environmental conditions. A mechanism and procedural guidelines for periodic allocation assessments between the recreational and commercial sectors needs to be specified in MSA in order to maximize the value of our nation’s fishery resources.
- Annual Catch Limits (ACL’s) - MSA currently requires an ACL for every species regardless of whether there is good science or an adequate monitoring system in place to support the catch limit. This section would provide modest but important exemptions for ACLs to better align this requirement with available recreational data.
- Rebuilding Timeframe Adjustment – The timeframe for rebuilding should be changed from an arbitrarily selected 10-years to a more species-appropriate, science-based timeframe, to avoid unnecessary closures.
- Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPP’s) – LAPPs, or catch shares, are intended to reduce capacity and participation in a fishery. While this model has applicability in purely commercial fisheries, it has created significant user conflicts in fisheries pursued by both recreational and commercial fishermen. There should be a moratorium on future catch shares until procedural guidelines are developed to guide the councils and NMFS through the process.
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