The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017

Current Situation

On April 6, 2017, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, or the Modern Fish Act for short, was introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 2023. The Senate version was introduced on July 10, 2017, as S. 1520. Both bills are designed to address federal saltwater management issues by adapting the federal system that has historically focused on commercial fishing to now meet the needs of the nation’s saltwater anglers.

If passed, the Modern Fish Act will improve access to America’s federal waters and promote conservation of our natural marine resources. The Modern Fish Act will provide federal managers with the tools and data needed to appropriately manage recreational fishing, rather than continuing to manage recreational fishing the same as commercial fishing, much like the proverbial square peg and the round hole.

Our Position

ASA leads with other recreational fishing groups, like the Center for Sportfishing Policy, in actively supporting this legislation.

Issue Background

Since 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, has been the primary statute governing the nation’s marine fisheries in federal waters, which in most states are 3-200 miles offshore. The MSA has made solid progress in ending overfishing, rebuilding depleted fish stocks, protecting essential fish habitat and a variety of other improvements to the nation’s marine resources. The Magnuson Stevens Act is designed to be reviewed regularly because the management needs of our nation’s fisheries are constantly evolving. Since the last reauthorization, it has become abundantly clear that the law needs to be revised to provide quality angling opportunities for all stakeholders

Over 11 million Americans enjoy saltwater recreational fishing. The sport contributes $70 billion to the nation’s economy annually and supports 455,000 American jobs. And yet, when it comes to federal management, our sport is frequently overlooked.

The MSA is primarily focused on commercial fishing. The resulting management system is based on commercial fisheries management concepts like “maximum sustainable yield” and poundage-based “annual catch limits” that are monitored in real time.

Given the nature of recreational fishing, which is based more on the experience than maximizing harvest, this type of management is generally not feasible or appropriate. And the MSA has never properly addressed the importance of recreational fishing, which has led to shortened or even canceled seasons, reduced bag limits, and unnecessary restrictions. Management strategies for saltwater anglers are in need of an update and many in our community believe that more emphasis needs to be put on recreational fishing, given its contributions to our nation’s economy and culture.

Under recommendations from the historic Morris-Deal report, ASA and other recreational fishing groups supported the work of sportfishing- and conservation-champions on capitol hill in crafting new legislation to address some of these fundamental issues with how recreational fishing in managed in federal waters. The legislation that came out of this effort is known as the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act).

The Modern Fish Act was first introduced in the House on April 6, 2017, by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.). Here is a section-by-section analysis of the text. On July 10, 2017, the Senate version of the Modern Fish Act was introduced by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Kennedy (R-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The Modern Fish Act comprehensively addresses the recreational fishing community’s priorities with federal fisheries management including allowing alternative management for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations, smartly rebuilding fishery stocks, establishing exemptions for where annual catch limits don’t fit and improving recreational data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science, and technology to guide decision-making.

The Modern Fish Act will achieve many goals, the most important of which is getting more Americans outdoors and enjoying our wonderful natural treasures. This bipartisan legislation includes key provisions that will adapt federal fisheries management to manage recreational fishing in a way that better achieves conservation and public access goals. Recreational fishing provides many economic, social and conservation benefits to the nation, and with this legislation, the federal fisheries management system will better realize those benefits.

A broad coalition of groups including the America Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, The Billfish Foundation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership support the Modern Fish Act.

In 2017, there were several hearings on MSA reauthorization and the Modern Fish Act and other proposed fisheries management legislation introduced this congress.

With a bipartisan bill introduced in both chambers and this series of congressional hearings, ASA is hopeful that Congress will ensure all Americans have fair and reasonable access to our nation’s marine resources by passing the Modern Fish Act in an MSA reauthorization process.