House Natural Resources Considers and Passes Important Fisheries Bills


Why it matters: The House Committee on Natural Resources (Committee) is the primary committee in the House through which measures that impact federal fisheries management, aside from funding, must pass and last week was a busy one for the Committee. On Tuesday, the Waters, Oceans, and Wildlife subcommittee held a hearing on two bills to reauthorize the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA), as well as the bipartisan Forage Fish Conservation Act of 2021, which has been a priority of CSF and several recreational fishing and boating organizations. The very next day, the full Committee on Natural Resources held a mark-up on 16 bills, three of which were supported by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), including the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act of 2021; the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act of 2021; and the Fisheries Resource Disasters Improvement Act. From removing antiquated destructive fishing gears, to providing recreational fishing interests a seat when awarding funding through the Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program, to ensuring recreational fishing business are included in fisheries disaster relieve funding, the recreational fishing community got three small wins when each of these bills were reported favorably out of committee.

On Tuesday, November 16, the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife hosted a hearing on the Forage Fish Conservation Act of 2021 (H.R. 5770) which was introduced by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Representative Debbie Dingell (MI) and CSC Member Representative Brian Mast (FL). Forage fish provide food for nearly all recreationally important fish species, as well as seabirds and other marine life. However, human demand for these nutrient-rich species continues to increase. Because these integral parts of the marine food web are becoming increasingly targeted for commercial exploitation, it is important that forage fish management accounts for their role in marine ecosystems. This bill would require that the impacts on fish populations and the marine ecosystem be considered before allowing harvest on any currently unmanaged forage species, and that predator needs should be accounted for in existing management plans for forage fish. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), along with several members of the recreational fishing and boating community, submitted a letter of support for the bill prior to the hearing.

On Thursday November 17, the full House Committee on Natural Resources held a committee mark-up on sixteen bills, and among those, three were supported by CSF:

  • H.R. 404, the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act of 2021 – This bill will phase out large-mesh drift gill nets off California’s coast over a 5-year period. Large-mesh drift gill nets have already been eliminated as allowable gear in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico commercial fisheries.

    In addition, the bill contains an important provision that provides a funding mechanism for the Alaskan halibut sportfishing fleet. The Recreational Quota Entity authorizes a market-based mechanism to transfer Alaska halibut quota shares from the commercial fishing sector to the charter fishing sector, providing additional opportunity for recreational anglers without a boat to harvest halibut.
  • H.R. 3128, the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act of 2021 – The Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program provides grants for a wide range of marine fisheries research and development programs, including recreational fisheries. This bill would provide equitable representation among stakeholder groups and would improve the identification and selection of projects of highest priority to the fishing community.
  • S. 2923, the Fishery Resource Disasters Improvement Act – The fishery disaster assistance program has helped businesses dependent on recreational fishing recover in the wake of a declared “commercial fishery disaster”. However, current statute excludes the recreational fishing industry from being considered in the declaration process and the determination of economic impact. This bill makes significant progress in including the recreational fishing industry in the disaster declaration process and expediting the delivery of relief dollars.

All three bills were reported favorably out of committee.

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