Marine Protected Areas and Recreational Angling


Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are marine environments reserved to protect natural resources. Over 1,600 MPAs are located within the boundaries of the United States across a wide range of habitats. Management strategies for MPAs vary considerably and sometimes result in marine reserves that are “no fishing zones”, which are detrimental to the recreational angling community. Due to the availability of alternative management tools, no-take marine reserves should only be used as a last resort for resource protection when other tools are exhausted.


Some people interpret MPAs to mean areas closed to all human activities. Others interpret them as special areas set aside for cultural or natural resource purposes. In reality, “marine protected area” is a term that encompasses a variety of conservation and management methods in the United States.

The official federal definition of a “marine protected area” or MPA is: “any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, tribal, territorial, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein,” as stated in Executive Order 13158 (May 2000).

In practice, MPAs are defined areas where natural and/or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters. In the U.S., MPAs span a range of habitats including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries and the Great Lakes. They also vary widely in purpose, legal authority, management approach, level of protection and restrictions on human uses.

An MPA is not necessarily a “no fishing zone,” though the two terms are often erroneously used as though they were interchangeable. For example, in an MPA commercial activities may be restricted, while sportfishing, boating and other forms of recreation are permitted. Some environmental groups have called for highly restrictive MPAs, such as “ocean wilderness areas” and marine reserves, where recreational activities are excluded.

MPAs should be implemented only where they can be an effective management tool and should allow recreational fishing and boating access unless sound scientific evidence proves it is necessary for resource protection. In cases where recreational angling is restricted or closed, the areas should be reopened once fishery management goals are achieved.

Economic Impact of Angling

The American System of Conservation Funding funds fisheries (and wildlife) management through fishing license sales and excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuel. License sales in 2017 amounted to $708 million, while the excise taxes collected on the sale of fishing gear, boats and boat fuel added another $340 million in support of conservation efforts carried out in each state. It’s a model that virtually powers itself.

This important System must be protected to ensure the funding for fisheries conservation is maintained. The very success of this sport depends on angler participation, interest and the opportunity to go fishing. Closing areas to angling hurts both the local and national economies and ultimately reduces funds available for fisheries conservation.

Recreational use of our public waters is compatible with – and in fact is essential to – sound conservation and natural resource stewardship, as is highlighted by contributions made to such successful conservation programs as the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund. Since 1950, recreational anglers and boaters have, through this unique user tax on motorboat fuel, fishing tackle, and other sportfishing equipment, generated nearly $8.8 billion in funding for fishery conservation and enhancement, habitat restoration, clean water programs, and boating safety programs.

The billions of dollars generated from the “user-pays, public-benefits” system is used to conserve our aquatic ecosystems. Because angling provides conservation funding, significant social and economic benefits, and is structured to support the sustainable management of resources with regulations already in place to prevent overuse, these activities warrant special consideration as priority uses of our nation’s waters. For this reason, recreational users of our nation’s waters should have the presumption of access unless otherwise restricted based on sound scientific data.

Recent Updates

On September 25, 2014, President Obama established the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument “for the care and management of the historic and scientific objects therein.” According the proclamation the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce are responsible for the management of sustainable recreational fishing.

Leading up to the proclamation CSF and members of the recreational angling community met with White House staff to discuss what ramifications the expanded MPA might have for recreational angling and emphasized that any potential restrictions must be scientifically based. As a follow up to that meeting, the angling community sent a letter to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA’s Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, restating the importance of maintaining recreational angling access in the expanded MPA in the absence of any science-based justification for doing otherwise.

On September 15, 2016, President Obama declared the first fully protected area in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean on, designating 4,913 square miles off the New England coastline as a new marine national monument known as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. CSF and members of the recreational fishing and boating community again worked with the White House to ensure that recreational angling was still an allowable use of the new monument.

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