Modern Fish Act 101

This article originally appeared in The Hook by the Center for Sportfishing Policy. To view it on the original page, click here.

Time to Get Reel

As we celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week, a review of the Modern Fish Act is in order. A lot has been written about this bill by many different people — some informed and some uninformed. One thing is for sure — the Modern Fish Act is an unprecedented, sportfishing-focused fisheries management bill that is moving through both chambers of Congress. This bi-partisan legislation aims to improve federal management of recreational fisheries while safeguarding sustainability for future generations.

Since school’s out for summer and many families are celebrating this week on the water, let’s look at what the bill accomplishes.

The Modern Fish Act:

  • Requires periodic reviews of mixed-use fisheries allocations (i.e. those fished by both the commercial and recreational sectors) in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. It’s a no-brainer that the way a public resource is divvied up should be periodically examined, but that is not happening now.
  • Clarifies that regional fishery management councils and NOAA Fisheries can implement management approaches such as harvest rate management that have been used successfully in some regions but that other regions have not even considered.
  • Requires a National Academy of Sciences study of how Limited Access Privilege Programs (conveniently nicknamed “catch share” programs) in mixed-use fisheries could be improved to reduce user conflicts, and places a hold on implementing any new Limited Access Privilege Programs until the study’s results are public.
  • Revises the rebuilding timeline requirement to ensure the timeframes are based on the biology of a depleted fishery, not an arbitrary 10-year rebuilding timeline. Anyone who supports science-based management should prefer this approach.
  • Authorizes the use of multi-year and multi-species annual catch limits, which is simply a codification of recent updates to NOAA Fisheries guidelines.
  • Requires NOAA Fisheries to respond if a state, regional fishery management council or interstate marine fisheries commission objects to an exempted fishing permit providing more clarity to the approval process.
  • Requires a study of how third-party data, such as state-collected data through electronic reporting systems — e.g. iSnapper in Texas, La Creel in Louisiana, Tails ‘n Scales in Mississippi, Outdoor AL in Alabama and iAngler in Florida — could improve fisheries data. For many offshore fisheries, the federal program that estimates angler harvest — the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) — does not provide data at the level of accuracy or timeliness needed for basic management, much less in-season management of various fisheries.
  • Tells NOAA Fisheries to implement the recommendations of the recent National Academy of Sciences review of MRIP and to follow up on key questions raised in the report, for example whether/how management could be better adapted to align with available data.

The Modern Fish Act does NOT exempt recreational anglers from rules, regulations or laws. Anglers support science-based management which ensures the future of recreational fishing.

Science-based. Angler-focused. That’s the Modern Fish Act. And it’s time to get reel.

Jeff Angers