Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act


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 due to be reauthorized. While MSA has made considerable headway in ending overfishing, the commercial model of management on which the Act is based is often unnecessarily restrictive for recreational anglers. Fortunately, with the passage of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act at the end of the 115th Congress, federal fisheries managers and the regional management councils will have the ability to applying fishery management strategies that are more appropriate for managing recreational components of some fisheries.


Since its original passage in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) has made progress in ending overfishing, rebuilding depleted fish stocks, protecting essential fish habitat and a variety of other improvements to the nation’s marine resources.[1] However, until recently, it remained primarily a model for commercial fisheries management and failed to adequately address the significant socioeconomic, cultural and conservation values of recreational fishing. The recreational fishing community should be treated with equal priority because the impact is the same, or greater in certain areas, than the commercial industry in terms of number of jobs provided and total economic benefits. On top of that, recreational anglers account for only a fraction (approximately 2%) of the nation’s total finfish landings according to a Southwick Associates’ study commissioned by the American Sportfishing Association. Furthermore, the study found that the recreational sector added $152.24 in value-added, or GDP, for one pound of fish landed, compared to the commercial sector’s $1.57 for a single pound of fish.

Fortunately, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (S. 1520), also known as the Modern Fish Act (MFA), was passed at the end of the 115th Congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 31, 2018. Public Law No. 115-405 takes a significant first step in recognizing the significance of recreational fisheries while offering opportunities to improve current federal fisheries management for recreational anglers. These changes to MSA include:

  • Providing authority and direction to NOAA Fisheries to apply additional management tools more appropriate for recreational fishing (e.g., extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities);
  • Improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring federal managers to explore other data sources that have the potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic reporting (e.g., through smartphone apps);
  • Requiring the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the process of mixed-use fishery allocation review by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils and report findings to Congress within one year of enactment of MFA;
  • Requiring the National Academies of Sciences to complete a study and provide recommendations within two years of the enactment of the MFA on limited access privilege programs (catch shares). This will include an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the program. It will also consider each sector of a mixed-use fishery and related businesses, coastal communities, and the environment and include an assessment of any impacts to stakeholders in a mixed-use fishery caused by a limited access privilege program. This study excludes the Pacific and North Pacific Regional Fishery Management Councils.

However, not all the changes sought in order to fully benefit recreational anglers were included in the final version of MFA signed by the President. As a full MSA reauthorization process begins again in the 116th Congress, the recreational fishing community will look to incorporate other amendments to the federal law that continue to improve recreational fisheries management.


Last updated 4/1/2019


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