For me, there’s always a sense of urgency in the final minutes of a day on the water. If I have been fortunate to catch fish during the trip, I want to catch one more to close out the day. If I haven’t, that last cast means all the difference between a sense of “figuring them out” and going home vindicated – or going home frustrated with the whole ordeal.
In the fisheries policy world, that’s exactly where we are with S. 1520 and H.R. 2023, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (Modern Fish Act). We’ve done everything right. We’ve worked with both sides of the isle to find bipartisan solutions while still protecting the fundamental principles of fisheries conservation that recreational anglers have championed for more than a century. But here we are, still short of landing this fish.
A lot is at stake for 9 million saltwater anglers, and we’re about to make the last cast in the closing days of the 115th Congress that could finally land some parity for anglers in a federal law that often discriminates against Americans who just want the opportunity to catch their own fish. Question is, will Congress enact common sense legislation to fix a problem or will they send anglers home frustrated once more with the status quo?
Past attempts to adjust the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) to benefit recreational fisheries management has centered on trying to add amendments here and there to various bills that sought to reauthorize the full federal law governing our marine fisheries. For this Congress, we took a different approach. We decided to do our own standalone legislation consisting of a package of amendments to MSA that are specific to improving recreational fisheries management.
Turns out, it was the right move. It provided a platform to discuss the fundamental differences between commercial and recreational fishing and educate Member offices that what we are trying to accomplish is not a commercial vs. recreational agenda, but rather a recognition of some of the shortfalls of MSA in effectively managing our recreational fisheries.
While both the House and Senate version of the Modern Fish Act generated solid bipartisan support and the provisions of which have passed out of their respective committees, nothing is simple on Capitol Hill these days. A concerted attempt by a few environmental groups to mislead Congress and the public on the merits of the Modern Fish Act have unjustly contributed to muddying the waters of an otherwise “no-brainer” piece of legislation which should have been sent to the President’s desk months ago.
However, we haven’t put the boat on the trailer just yet.
A former Scottish politician, John Buchan, is credited with saying, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” In this final cast for the Modern Fish Act, there is no doubt it is attainable, and we are certainly hopeful. Hopeful that recreational saltwater anglers are finally given a fair shake in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Hopeful that federal managers are provided with the tools and guidance to better manage our fisheries for both anglers and fisheries conservation. Hopeful that genuine efforts to find compromise and meaningful legislation will not be discarded. Hopeful that Congress still works as it was intended and will pass the bipartisan Modern Fish Act before we have to load the boat and pull away from 115th.