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In a September 12 hearing in the U.S. Senate, RFA's Jim Donofrio joined Chris Horton of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and Phil Faulkner of Nautic Star Boats in appealing for legislative reform of our federal fisheries law.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  September 13, 2017
“Nobody is going to go out there and spending $150 for fuel and another $100 for bait and tackle and food for an experience, they’re going out there to catch and keep a few fish,” said Mike Wagner of Wagner's Marina of Keyport, NJ where a typical summer Saturday like this one on September 9 would have more anglers experiencing the action if it weren't for the fact that fluke and sea bass seasons were closed.

On Tuesday, September 12, 2017 the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing entitled “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Oversight of Fisheries Management Successes and Challenges.”

It’s the third and final scheduled legislative hearing in the Senate on the reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the federal law which manages most of our coastal fisheries including summer flounder, black sea bass, cod, porgy, and bluefish, as well as red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic.

The Subcommittee heard from two panels of witnesses representing recreational, commercial and charter-for-hire fishermen. Invited witnesses on the first panel testifying in support of reforming MSA to address management challenges that currently restrict access to recreational fishermen coastwide included Phil Faulkner, president of NauticStar Boats; Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA); and Chris Horton, fisheries program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF). Speaking out in opposition to MSA reform in first panel testimony was Anthony Friedrich, former executive director for the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of Maryland.

The hearing was broadcast online beginning at 2:40 p.m. and was chaired by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). Because republicans have the majority in both the House and the Senate, three of the four witnesses invited to testify supported efforts to reform the federal fisheries law. Democrats on the other hand in the opposition minority were able to invite a single witness to participate in each panel testimony; each of the two panels at the hearing, the first dedicated to recreational issues and the second towards the commercial side

Earlier this year a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill in Congress called the Modern Fish Act (S. 1520) to address the challenges facing recreational fishermen in the federal fisheries management system. 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 is supported across party lines on Capitol Hill and would help benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science and technology to guide decision-making.

A companion bill, H.R. 2023, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 6, by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

In his testimony, Donofrio told Senators that RFA has been asking for legislative assistance since MSA was last reauthorized in 2007, which is when amendments made to the law created a systemic management problem on a national scale, most acutely felt in the recreational sector.

"Congress must be made to realize that managing fisheries requires a balance between resource conservation and economic considerations," Donofrio said. "Quite simply, while the system under the current provisions in the MSA has been successful in rebuilding some key fish stocks it has been a dismal failure at translating that success into socioeconomic benefits to fishermen and the recreational fishing industry. It is unnecessarily costing the nation thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in lost economic opportunity."

RFA and other organizations are pushing hard to pass Modern Fish Act bills in the House and Senate. In the House, two bills have been introduced, the Modern Fish Act (HR2023) as well as HR 200 introduced Rep. Don Young from Alaska called the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. A “markup hearing” is expected in early fall which is where a proposed piece of legislation is debated, amended and possibly rewritten by a full committee before it is passed out of the House.

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