Joint Workgroup Wraps Up Efforts to Identify Better Ways to Manage Recreational Fisheries

  • Section 102 of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (Modern Fish Act) of 2018 (a priority bill in which the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) played a leading role in passing) clarified that the regional fishery management councils have the authority to use alternative fishery management measures such as extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities.
  • Following a presentation to the Council Coordinating Committee in November 2019 regarding alternative management options, the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils committed to organizing a joint working group to identify possible alternative management measures in their regions.
  • After several meetings since the spring of 2020, the working group wrapped up their discussions and will provide a report with recommendations back to their respective councils. While no new alternative management strategies materialized, a few of the working group’s recommendations could lead to more efficient management of recreational fisheries in the future.

Why It Matters: Federal fisheries management predominately uses a biomass-based management model that uses hard pound quotas to limit fishing effort. While this approach has historically worked well for commercial fisheries where the incentive to fish is based on profits by maximizing harvest while minimizing effort, it has become increasingly challenging in recent years to force recreational anglers under the same type of management approach. The alternative management working group of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils attempted to develop recommendations that would lead to a better “box” for recreational anglers.

On October 12, the Joint Council Workgroup for Section 102 of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018 (MFA), a workgroup consisting of South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management council representatives, held what will likely be the final meeting in the foreseeable future between the two councils to identify better ways to manage recreational fisheries. While no novel ideas were produced, a couple of the recommendations have the potential to lead to better management in the future, namely a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) review of National Standards 1 (NS1) and for councils to take a closer look at how they define “Optimum Yield” (OY) for the recreational sector.

From the first meeting, NMFS emphasized that NS1 defines “catch” in pounds or numbers of fish and any alternative management strategy must do the same. However, the National Standards are simply administrative rules that attempt to interpret the intent of Congress in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). They can be changed. Section 303(b)(3)(A) in MSA allows for a broader definition of catch, and thus how “annual catch limits” or Section 303(a)(15) of MSA, could be set. Until NS1 is updated to better reflect how catch can be defined according to MSA, as well as the MFA, it appears that recreational anglers will be forced to remain under the current biomass-based federal management model. CSF’s Chris Horton thanked the workgroup for recognizing the NS1 bottleneck and spoke in favor of the recommendation to review the standard during the public testimony portion of the meeting.

Likewise, Horton supported the workgroup’s recommendations to review how OY should be defined for each recreational fishery under the councils’ jurisdictions. OY is a level of harvest based on the classic fishery management principle of managing to “maximum sustainable yield” as reduced by relevant economic, social, or ecological factor. While commercial fisheries often seek to maximize harvest in pounds to realize the most profits, the goal of many recreational fisheries is simply to have access to their public trust resource for the longest period of time, which generates significant economic and social benefits. Unfortunately, NMFS does a very poor job of collecting information on the economic and social values of recreational fisheries. It is hoped that in depth discussions at the council levels on better defining OY will lead to NMFS collecting better information on the value of recreational angling.

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