Eye on the Donut

This article originally appeared in Salt Water Sportsmen.

Given that we’re living in contentious, partisan time in this country, there’s refreshing news regarding fisheries management.

By Glenn Law

The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, known as the Modern Fish Act, which presents amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act that represent anglers’ interests, passed the Senate Committee in February with bipartisan support.

The act incorporates many of the recommendations by the Morris-Deal Commission, which we’ve discussed here over the past couple of years, and while there’s still a ways to go to final passage, this latest move was significant.
It’s been a long battle, and the Modern Fish Act is still getting its share of criticism, some from our own ranks, among anglers.

Much of the mainstream media presents the issue as anglers’ right to fish versus the environmentalists’ right to healthy resources, which is misguided and lacks subtlety, though it does feed into the national atmosphere of contention and dogma.

The labels are convenient, if inaccurate. Pitting environmentalists against anglers leaves out those of us who consider ourselves both.

True, an environmentalist is not necessarily an angler. But the converse fails to hold true. When fishing is important to you, so are the environs in which it takes place. I don’t know any fishermen who’d be satisfied to pursue hatchery fish in an urban sewer.

The labels offer convenience, but reactivity moves faster than the speed of thought and only plays into the national impasse, when actually our goals are the same.

There’s some discussion that elements of the Act are present already in Magnuson-Stevens, which begs the question, then why haven’t they worked for us?

Another objection seems to be the abandonment of science-based management. But no one seems to be able to identify just exactly what science is being abandoned. Maybe the population surveys that are left over from the last century? Or the red snapper census that took place over barren sand bottom rather than where those fish live?

One of the more obtuse objections is that recreational interests are focusing on their economic contribution to the national economy. Really?

It took decades for anglers to recognize that, in dealing with the Department of Commerce, presenting ourselves as a vital commercial benefit carries more weight going into battle than a heartfelt love song to the outdoor experience. While the aesthetics of the outdoors is one reason we fish, we’re making our case here with the Department of Commerce, not the National Endowment for the Arts.

It wasn’t until we presented our economics case that anything substantial happened.

Once we defined our economic benefit to the nation, NOAA Fisheries issued the first National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy in 2015. The first ever. That watershed event established a revised playing field.

Granted, the Modern Fish Act may be imperfect, but it represents a big step forward toward a more sane management philosophy. As we know, there’s peril in letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Starting over from scratch is a dead end.

We’re not going to solve any of our problems by moving backward. You might as well bemoan the overly technical fishing boat and ditch your chart plotter and fish finder as a solution, to return to a simpler time and simpler way of fishing. Good luck with that.

We can look to the past for lessons, but not for models.