Marine Protected Areas and Recreational Angling


Marine Protected Areas 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.


“Marine Protected Area” (MPA) is a term that encompasses a variety of conservation and management methods in the United States. The official federal definition of an 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” (E.O.13158, May 2000). In the U.S., there are over 1,600 MPAs that span a range of habitats including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and parts of the Great Lakes.

There are many different types of MPAs, with the marine reserve, which prohibits all extractive activities and both recreational and commercial harvest of fisheries resources, being the most restrictive.  The recent trend is to use MPAs to create permanent fishing closures in vast areas of both coastal and offshore waters. These restrictive marine reserves are often proposed by nongovernmental organizations as a fisheries management tool with little or no scientific justification and without regard to the effect on recreational fishing. When private funding agendas can influence permanent angler access closures and policy – such as the California Marine Life Protection Act – professional natural resource managers and scientific research are no longer essential. In 2008 a proposal known as “Islands in the Stream” called for a chain of symbolic MPAs with marine reserves from Texas to Florida without any sufficient scientific justification and no advanced consideration was given to the potential negative economic impacts to the Gulf region’s recreational fishing jobs and businesses. Through the efforts of the sport fishing community, the proposal died, but similar unscientific proposals for the Gulf Coast and beyond have surfaced since.

Recently, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reinstated a sanctuary nomination process that had been suspended for 20 years. With enough local support, anyone can now nominate an area of marine or Great Lake’s waters to be designated as a “sanctuary”, regardless of a science-based need. While sanctuaries and other forms of marine protected areas, including marine reserves, can be useful tools in conserving aquatic resources, they must be thoroughly vetted with the state natural resource agencies and the area’s stakeholders based on sound science and clearly identifiable and measurable goals. Prohibition on recreational fishing should be a last resort, only implemented if biologically justified and for as short a duration as practicable to meet specific management goals.

In 2016, President Obama declared the first fully protected area in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, 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.

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 2018 amounted to $724 million, while the excise taxes collected on the sale of fishing gear, boats and boat fuel added another $632 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.

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