Fish Politics - The Fisherman

Fish Politics

As I sit here today hammering out the August Editor’s Log in-between report calls and returning emails, I can’t help but shake the feeling I got last week at ICAST 2018 that Florida is the self-appointed Fishing Capital of the World. Much like how Montauk proclaimed itself the Surfcasting Capital of the World without so much as an ounce of input from any outsiders, so many in both “the industry” and the region itself assigned the southeastern-most state this title, somewhat undeservedly so, in my opinion. Now while I don’t really take the surf fishing reference personally as I’d rather catch my fish in near obscurity, the perception that Florida and the surrounding states is “where it’s at” can in many ways hurt us here in the northeast in more ways than one.

I’ll get more into those thoughts another time as today I’d like to update you on some political action that directly affects local saltwater anglers. Unless you were living under a rock, you just returned from a marathon offshore fishing bender or you simply haven’t been following along all that closely for the last few months, H.R.200 – Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act recently went to vote. On July 11, HR.200 passed the House by a 222-193 vote. Two hundred and thirteen Republicans and nine Democrats voted “yes,” while 15 Republicans and 178 Democrats voted “no.” I am one of the last people to get political on any subject, but there are some interesting figures as follows regarding New England representatives and how they voted on this subject.

“YES” Votes: Courtney – CT – D, Poliquin – ME – R, Lynch – MA – D.
“NO” Votes: Delauro – CT – D, Esty – CT – D, Himes – CT – D, Larson – CT – D, Pingree – ME – D, Capuano – MA – D, Clark – MA – D, Keating – MA – D, Kennedy – MA – D, McGovern – MA – D, Moulton – MA – D, Neal – MA – D, Tsongas – MA – D, Kuster – NH – D, Shea Porter – NH – D, Cicilline – RI – D, Langevin – RI – D, Welch – VT – D.

Admittedly I am not as well-versed on the subject of politics and fishing and how they intermingle these days, so below are some excerpts from the New Jersey/Delaware Bay editor here at The Fisherman Magazine, Jim Hutchinson, Jr. and his August Editor’s Log.

“In the early ‘70s, Alaska republican Don Young and Massachusetts democrat Gerry Studds crossed the aisle to collaborate on legislation to protect America’s coastal fisheries. Perhaps those were more civil, constructive times; commercial and recreational fishermen left gear and allocation arguments aside to unite in opposition to foreign fleets decimating U.S. fish stocks, while congressmen like Young and Studds saw through their own partisan differences to enact sound federal fisheries change. While the nuts and bolts of the legislation came from Young and Studds, the final 1976 law would ultimately be named after the two senators on the other side of Congress who sponsored the Senate version, democrat Warren Magnuson from Washington and republican Ted Stevens from Alaska.

I don’t think it’s going out a limb to say there’s no one on Capitol Hill today that knows the Magnuson Stevens Act any better than its original author, Rep. Don Young. The law’s initial intent, purpose and its ultimate goals came from his pen and that of his late congressional counterpart, Rep. Gerry Studds. That’s why Rep. Young’s bill, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (HR.200), comes from a pretty good place. This ‘Magnuson flexibility’ bill includes critically important language to address rigid annual catch limits (ACL) and accountability measures punitively inserted into the previous reauthorization to the detriment of the recreational fishing community at-large; it also addresses the inflexibility of unscientific, arbitrary rebuilding timelines.

However, without a matching Senate version, we may not get a more responsible piece of legislation to improve the balance between commerce and conservation while providing fair and sustainable access to fluke and black sea bass. There is a Senate bill called the Modern Fish Act (S.1520) that has a lot of good stuff for saltwater anglers, but as a whole it’s focused more on Southeast access issues and it doesn’t help [local] anglers like HR.200 does.

Some language from that Modern Fish Act made its way to Young’s bill which is good; but when he wrote his latest amendments to his original 1970s piece of legislation, Rep. Young also included language to address the ACL and deadline poisons incorporated by environmental lobbyists in the last two reauthorizations, language critical to addressing problems with fluke and black sea bass. That particular language does not exist in the Modern Fish Act in the Senate.

HR.200 does have opposition; simply visit the New York Times, Huffington Post or any number of environmental blog sites to read the apocalyptic warnings of how the legislation will gut our federal fisheries law. What the doomsayers don’t say is that our federal fisheries law was originally written by Rep. Don Young’s to begin with; it was environmental extremists that actually gutted our federal fisheries law of any sanity or sensibility over the past 30 years.

All indications are that fluke will be back on a 10-year rebuilding track soon, and we all know what the ACL requirements have done to our black sea bass fishery. Sadly, the Senate version of the Modern Fish Act alone will not address these issues. So as much as I’d love to stand up and scream support of the Modern Fish Act alone to help my friends in the southeast, the Senate needs to memorialize Rep. Young this time around by moving his legislative priorities along to the president’s desk.”

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