Protecting recreational fishing in our oceans means promoting the Illinois economy

This article originally appeared in The State Journal-Register.  To view, click here.

By Alex Holtschulte

Across Illinois, from one generation to the next, fishing and boating have brought families and friends together to form unique bonds and create lasting memories.

Unfortunately, these favored pastimes are at risk. Crippling laws that govern recreational fishing in federal waters, specifically saltwater recreational fishing in our oceans, are jeopardizing the marine industry across Illinois.

As a state that boasts 648 marine businesses, which in turn employ nearly 21,000 people, the marine industry adds $3.9 billion to the Illinois economy each year. Here at SeaStar Solutions in Litchfield, we are one of these marine businesses. Our 300 employees manufacture parts used by millions of our country’s boaters and anglers from coast to coast.

That’s why the issues impacting Americans who fish off our coasts are important to the people of Illinois.

Unfortunately, saltwater recreational anglers who fish in our oceans are plagued by an outdated law from 1976 known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

This legislation, while well-intentioned, regulates recreational fishing with the same management tools as commercial fishing. The archaic management methods rooted in the Magnuson-Stevens Act make proper management of recreational fishing impossible. As a result, American anglers have restricted access to fisheries, and by extension, their recreational boating is also limited. While this legislation doesn’t directly impact recreational fishing in Illinois, it’s putting at risk marine manufacturing jobs in our state.

Thankfully, there is bipartisan hope. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and Representatives Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, and Gene Green, D-Texas, have introduced the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, or the “Modern Fish Act,” as we call it, which updates the regulations currently crippling recreational fishing, boating and the businesses they support.

The U.S. marine industry is advocating for the Modern Fish Act to address the challenges facing recreational anglers by clarifying that federal fisheries managers can employ alternative management approaches successfully used in other jurisdictions. The Modern Fish Act would ensure anglers more access while adhering to our conservation goals. Defenders of the status quo claim any changes to the law would result in overfishing, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Dr. Ray Hilborn, professor at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, recently testified at a hearing, stressing to our nation’s senators, that in order for U.S. fisheries management to succeed, the Magnuson-Stevens Act must continue to rely on scientific advice. He stated that overfishing remains a concern for a limited number of stocks, but should not continue to be the most important concern for U.S. federal fisheries policy.

Chris Oliver, the head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, made similar statements before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee members when he said that 91 percent of fish stocks with assessments are not subject to overfishing. As former head of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, even Oliver admits that implementing rigid accountability measures such as annual catch limits set forth by federal law is challenging in some fisheries.

With passage of the Modern Fish Act (S. 1520 and H.R. 2023), recreational anglers who fish federal waters would see the frustrations of unwarranted restrictions relieved by practical, modern management approaches; thousands of businesses supported by saltwater recreational fishing would experience a much-needed boost; and the conservation of our natural resources would be ensured by improved data collection.

These are goals every American can support, and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle should do everything in their power to help get Americans back on the water.

Alex Holtschulte is the director of supply chain at SeaStar Solutions in Litchfield.