By Jim Shepherd, Publisher
Across the outdoor news platforms, you can read the congratulatory messages from the various recreational fishing organizations celebrating -finally- the House of Representatives passage of H.R. 1335; reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Magnuson-Stevens, the primary statute governing the nation's fisheries has lingered far too-long in Congress, prisoner of the tough political infighting that always happens when commercial and recreational interests clash.
This time, saltwater recreational anglers seem to have won a round, primarily due to the recreational fishing industry pulling off the gloves and pounding decision makers with the fact that recreational fishing contributes some $70 billion annually to our economy while it provides jobs for more than 450,000 people.
But not everything hoped for was accomplished. the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, a/k/a the Morris-Deal Commission made plenty of recommendations, but key provisions -including a "more transparent and science-based review of fishery allocations" did make it through to the final version of H.R. 1335.
Unfortunately, a move to transfer management of the Gulf of Mexico's red snapper to the five Gulf states didn't survive the political process. The fishery management officials in those states have made a compelling case that the red snapper fishery there is a total mess under federal management. Under federal regulations there's precious little time allocated for recreational red snapper fishing, despite the scientific fact that red snapper populations are at levels that support far longer recreational seasons and takes.
Not everyone, however, is happy with the new promises. Today's news section carries the official comments of the Seafood Harvesters of America, and they say there's no need for Magnuson-Stevens to face reforms. In fact, they classify those "significant reforms" as "unnecessary".
Their reasoning is the polar opposite of the recreational fishing industry. They believe any reallocation or modification of fisheries allocations will be "based on arbitrary political deadlines" and raise the possibility of a "perpetual review" process and "economic uncertainty for commercial fishermen".
They're also saying the reviews might reward "unaccountability and overfishing" while depriving "millions of Americans of access to American seafood." A subtitling of their comments might well read "if we don't get the majority of the catch allocations, you can bet the recreational anglers will fish the oceans dry".
H.R. 1335 is a single bill which reflects the ongoing battle between recreational and commercial fishing. It's not the final shot in the fight by a long shot. Commercial interests aren't going to allow allocations to be adjusted without a bitter fight.
It's crucial that recreational fishing advocates continue to emphasize the significant economic impact of sport fishing.