Modern Fish Act clears major hurdle

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By Ed Killer

Could red snapper, like this one caught last year aboard the Safari 1 partyboat out of Port Salerno, be on the catch and keep list thanks to new legislation moving through Congress?

“There’s Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Ag. Isn’t there a Big Fish?” That was a question posed to me by a colleague a few years ago. A discussion about federal fishing regulations had brewed up in the newsroom.

Believe it or not, at the time, there was no such thing as Big Fish, or more appropriately, Big Angler. Despite all the organizations which represent recreational fishermen throughout the country, despite all the fishing licenses and boats and fishing tackle purchased by the nation’s 60 million plus anglers, despite the $115 billion economic engine fueled by recreational anglers, they never really had much of a voice in federal fisheries management.

Until now. Maybe.

Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation overwhelmingly approved S. 1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). The legislation calls for critically important updates to the oversight of federal fisheries, improving data collection techniques and examining fishery allocations which have been based on decades-old policy. It represents a culture change in federal saltwater fisheries management first established over 40 years ago by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The Modern Fish Act was introduced in the Senate in July 2017 by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a Space Coast resident with strong ties to the Treasure Coast — regions where recreational fishing is much more than just a hobby, but a critically important segment of the economy.

The legislation still has more work ahead as it must be brought before the full Senate.

The evolution of fishery management began with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and set up the present system which utilizes regional advisory councils consisting of a cross-section of commercial fishermen, state and federal agency fishery managers and scientists, conservation group members, charter boat skippers and recreational anglers. However, over the decades, the direction of the management policy and allocation of resources were swayed by the voices on these councils.

Over time it seemed as if the allocations and needs of the family level recreational saltwater angler and charter boat owner were outvoted by commercial fishing interests at first, and in more recent years by conservation-focused philosophy.

It led Scott Deal of Vero Beach, one of the owners of Maverick Boat Group in Fort Pierce, and Johnny Morris of Springfield, Mo., owner of Bass Pro Shops national outdoors and fishing equipment retailer, to develop an official policy on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management beginning about four years ago. Called the Morris-Deal Commission, it highlighted six key policy changes to expand saltwater recreational fishing’s social, economic and conservation benefits to the nation.

Many recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission were addressed by the Modern Fish Act passed by the Senate Commerce Committee. To learn more about it, go to the American Sportfishing Association website.

Many advocacy groups working for commercial offshore fishing interests and conservation groups are not supportive of the legislation. However, it received bipartisan support from 12 cosponsors and was praised by a broad coalition of organizations representing the saltwater recreational fishing and boating community.

“There are 11 million saltwater anglers in the U.S. who have a $63 billion economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “We applaud the Senate Commerce Committee for taking this important step and call for the full Senate to quickly take action on this legislation.”