June 5, 2014

Recreational Angling Community Voices Priorities for Federal Fisheries Law

June 1 signaled the start of the shortest federal recreational red snapper season in history of the Gulf of Mexico. The nine-day season is the result of an emergency rule implemented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries following a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to side with commercial fishing interests closely associated with the Environmental Defense Fund. 

The groups argued that the recreational sector was mismanaged by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2013.  As the red snapper population continues to increase in both abundance and size, recreational anglers are reaching the poundage-based quota set by the NMFS at a faster rate. This forces NMFS to set shorter and shorter seasons, despite the healthiest population of red snapper in recent history.  This fundamentally broken management system is systematically failing Gulf Coast anglers and the communities they support.

Ultimately, the on-going red snapper debacle in the Gulf is a symptom of a larger problem with the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The current data collection process, the lack of a formal process or incentive to update allocations based on the best value for the nation, and an overall management system designed solely for commercial fishing hasn’t kept pace with the growing recreational sector or the overwhelmingly positive economic impacts recreational anglers have on local communities.

Last reauthorized in 2006, MSA is set to be renewed again within the next year. While it is unlikely that there will be enough time during the remainder of this session of Congress to see MSA reauthorized, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and recreational angling stakeholders are continuing to engage in the process. 

On May 29, the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee approved H.R. 4742, the House version of MSA reauthorization entitled: “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.”  Unfortunately for the recreational angling community, it fails to address the top priorities previously outlined in “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.”  This report addresses the needs of anglers and the industry, while enhancing the full-range of economic, social and conservation benefits recreational angling provides to the nation.  Most notably absent in H.R. 4742 is the lack of a periodic reallocation process and failure to systematically use socioeconomic conditions within the allocation process. 

Also on May 29, CSF along with seven other sportsmen’s conservation groups sent a letter to Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman and CSC member Senator Mark Begich (AK) and the Committee’s Ranking Member Senator Marco Rubio (FL). The comment letter is in response to Committee staff’s request for thoughts and suggestions from the recreational angling community regarding the Senate’s draft language for reauthorization of MSA. It was encouraging to see that several of the recreational angling community’s key priorities as outlined in the Vision document are included in the language. However, there were several provisions that were of concern or that needed further clarification.

CSF will continue to work with our partners in the recreational angling community to ensure recreational angling gets due priority in the next reauthorization of MSA.As the reauthorization of MSA progresses, it is paramount that recreational anglers are engaged and present a united front in advocating for a more equitable share of the public trust. CSF will continue to keep you apprised as this legislation moves through Congress.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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