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Rep. Frank Pallone and Sen. Bob Menendez make the rounds in Atlantic Highlands talking with recreational fishermen, while back in DC their fellow congressmen are tackling fisheries reform.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  July 30, 2017
On the docks of the Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor (left to right) Congressman Frank Pallone, harbormaster John Amici, mayor Rhonda C. Le Grice, Senator Bob Menendez and Capt. Tom Buban of the Atlantic Star talk about issues hampering the New Jersey recreational fishermen. Photo by Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, will convene a hearing on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 1.

This hearing is the first in a series of Senate hearings to examine the state of our nation’s fishery laws and guide the reauthorization of our federal fisheries law. Witnesses slated to testify include Dr. John Quinn, chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council Chairman, and Christopher Oliver, newly appointed Assistant Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

In early July, the recreational fishing and boating community praised the Senate introduction of the Modern Fish Act by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), John Kennedy (R-LA) and Joe Manchin (D-WA). Supported by the American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, International Game Fish Association and other groups, the new bill in the U.S. Senate (S.1520) would improve public access to America's federal waters, promote conservation of our natural marine resources and spur economic growth within the recreational fishing community.

A companion bill (HR. 2023) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-LA), Gene Green (D-TX), Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Rob Wittman (R-VA). Despite the broad-based community support, as of late July neither S.1520 nor HR.2023 has any co-sponsor support from legislators in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York or any of the New England states.

“The Modern Fish Act will achieve many goals, the most important of which is getting more Americans outdoors and enjoying our wonderful natural treasures,” said Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association, the trades association for fishing tackle manufacturers nationwide. “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.

“The Modern Fish Act would fix key issues in the law governing marine fisheries that keep recreational anglers from enjoying access to healthy fisheries,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, adding that the legislation would specifically address needs of the recreational fishing community.

An important provision of the bill would encourage use of alternative management approaches for the recreational sector. Since 1976, federal fisheries management has been guided by the Magnuson Act which has focused primarily on commercial fishing activities. As the coalition of recreational user groups has been stressing to legislators, commercial and recreational fishing are fundamentally different, however, and each requires different management approaches.

While state fishery managers use different management approaches for recreational and commercial sectors, NMFS is instead forced by law to manage recreational fisheries the same way as in the commercial sector —by setting a poundage-based quota and attempting to enforce it in real time through the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP, formerly known as MRFSS) in conjunction with season, size and bag limits based on “numbers” of fish.

Other MSA changes offered in the bill being discussed in the subcommittee on Capitol Hill this week include establishing reasonable exemptions for annual catch limits, strategically rebuilding fish stocks and improving recreational data collection.

“The simple adjustments in this bipartisan bill would continue to ensure conservation of our nation’s saltwater fisheries, while finally establishing greatly needed parity for the recreational fishing community,” added Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

At a July 19, 2017 event on Capitol Hill hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and other coalition groups, Nick Cicero of the Mahwah, NJ based Bimini Bay Outfitters and Folsom Corporation said federal fisheries laws dictating how recreational fisheries are managed need to be amended to take into consideration the limitations of the recreational data collection programs and their inability to be used for the fair and equitable enforcement of annual catch limits.

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