Saltwater Anglers Land Last Minute Victory in 2018 – President Signs the Modern Fish Act into Law

On December 31, President Trump signed into law the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (S. 1520), also known as the Modern Fish Act (MFA). This is a first step in bringing positive change in federal fisheries management for the nation’s saltwater anglers. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), along with partners in the recreational fishing community, have been working to realize these changes in federal law for the last several years.    

“We’re grateful for the leadership of Senator Roger Wicker and Congressman Garret Graves, as well as the bipartisan efforts of many members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) in both chambers, for getting this bill across the finish line,” said CSF President Jeff Crane. “We look forward to working with the CSC leadership and Members in the next Congress to continue to improve the Magnuson-Stevens Act on behalf of America’s anglers.”

The House version of the MFA (H.R. 2023), introduced by Congressmen Garret Graves (LA), Gene Green (TX), Rob Wittman (VA) and Daniel Webster (WV), was included in Congressman Don Young’s (AK) Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 200), which passed the House of Representatives on July 11. The inclusion of the MFA provisions in a bill that had already cleared the House paved the way for S. 1520, which passed the Senate unanimously on December 17 as a standalone bill, to be taken up and passed by the House of Representatives on December 19.

“There truly were a lot of moving parts and many differing points of views that had to be negotiated in order to at least take this first step for recreational anglers,” said CSF Fisheries Program Director Chris Horton. “While the version that was signed into law last Monday doesn’t contain all of the changes we asked for on behalf of recreational anglers, this is a good start from which to build upon. We will work to see that NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the regional fishery management councils fully implement the new provisions that will benefit fisheries conservation and anglers alike.”

Language in MSA will now recognize that commercial and recreational fisheries are different and should be managed accordingly. Other provisions of the MFA that will directly benefit recreational fisheries management 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.

One of the key provisions sought by the recreational community not included in the signed version of MFA was the requirement for periodic re-examinations of the allocation of fisheries resources between the recreational and the commercial sectors. “Deciding which component of a fishery should get more fish and which should get less is an exceedingly contentious, divisive process that the Councils generally try to avoid. However, there are fisheries, like red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, that have had the same allocation in place for nearly three decades,” said Horton. “Things change, and so does the value of that fish to the nation relative to each sector. Although MFA will require a much-needed review by the Comptroller General on how fisheries are allocated and what guidelines could be used when reallocating fisheries, without a set timeline for reviewing allocations, the Councils will continue to kick the can down the road. Hopefully, this need for established review timelines will be one of the things that comes to light during the GAO study.”

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