Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act


The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the principal law governing marine fisheries management in the federal waters of the United States. The MSA was reauthorized in 2006 with legal requirements to end overfishing by 2011 and establish annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AM’s) on every fishery managed by NOAA – the agency charged with the oversight of the MSA. Unfortunately, NOAA Fisheries implements the ACL’s and AM’s in hard-poundage quotas, which works well for commercial fisheries but is not an effective management approach for many recreational fisheries. Implementing a more appropriate model for managing recreational fisheries and periodic re-examination of allocations are some of the primary goals of the recreational fishing community for the next reauthorization of MSA.


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.  However, it remains primarily a model for commercial fisheries management and fails to adequately address the significant socioeconomic, cultural and conservation values of recreational fishing. Current laws and policies governing saltwater recreational fishing have not kept pace with the evolution of recreational saltwater fishing, including its growing popularity and tremendous economic impact. 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. However, interestingly enough, 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.  

Unfortunately, the current version of MSA does provide latitude in developing different management approaches that could address many of the challenges currently facing recreational anglers. However, due to the reluctance of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to interpret the various provisions broadly enough to make the needed adjustments, some specific direction to NMFS and the Regional Fishery Management Councils is needed. 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.

Points of Interest

In order to ensure science-based management, conservation of our marine fisheries resources and appropriate and equitable benefits for recreational anglers, the following adjustments contained in H.R. 2023 and S. 1520 need to be included with MSA reauthorization ,  : 

  • 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 (ACLs) - 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 (LAPPs) – 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. 


Moving Forward

As commercial and recreational fisheries are fundamentally different activities with dissimilar harvest data collection systems, elected officials must recognize that each require different management approaches. A separate management strategy for recreational fisheries should be developed based on the data available, and it should be similar to the inland fisheries management model that has been used successfully for decades. Where appropriate, management of recreationally important fish stocks should be transferred to the states or the state-based marine fisheries commissions where both public input and biological data are used more effectively in management decisions. State legislators, especially those in coastal states, should be aware of the disparities between commercial and recreational fisheries; the numerous potential benefits of restructuring MSA to fully realize the social and economic contributions of recreational angling; and the need to engage Congress on behalf of recreational anglers during the reauthorization process. 


For more information regarding this issue, please contact Chris Horton at

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