Nearly Bookered! - The Fisherman

Nearly Bookered!

On December 31, President Trump signed the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018 into law. In his official statement at signing, the president said “The Act, however, further strengthens the Regional Fishery Management Councils, which were first established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1976 to promulgate fishery management plans.”

“The power of these Councils has steadily increased over time, raising constitutional concerns related to the manner of the appointment and removal of their members and of members of certain scientific and statistical committees that assist them,” President Trump noted, adding “Keeping with past practice of the executive branch, my Administration will treat the plans promulgated by the Council as advisory only; the adoption of the plans will be subject to the discretion of the Secretary of Commerce as part of the regulatory process described in section 304 of the Magnuson‑Stevens Act.”

Not exactly a glowing endorsement. In the president’s own words, members of the regional management councils are only advisors; what actually gets implemented in terms of federal regulation ultimately comes from the Secretary of Commerce who oversees NOAA Fisheries.

The Modern Fish Act as it’s commonly referred was passed with much industry fanfare in the final hours of 2018. As we wrote when first breaking news of its late congressional movement at TheFisherman.com in early December (Modern Fish Act Gets Fixed Up For A Vote) there were a few sticky wickets inserted into the bill along the way; potentially most damaging of which was language requested by New Jersey’s own U.S. Senator Cory Booker, which would’ve toughened rebuilding requirements by 25 percent, potentially leading to fluke and sea bass regulations that were 25 percent more restrictive than under current federal law.

Thankfully, Sen. Booker’s sadistic attack on his own fishing constituents was killed during a busy month of horse-trading on Capitol Hill. It’s important to keep in mind that the legislation was written specifically to address ongoing issues experienced by red snapper anglers in the south, so most of the Modern Fish Act’s legal linguistics will have little impact on coastal fisheries managed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (fluke, sea bass, porgies for example).

Because Booker’s poison pill amendment was removed, the bill thankfully does us little harm; but again, it may not really help us much either from a regulatory sense as existing federal law still takes priority. An analysis of the Modern Fish Act by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation said, “The Committee does not intend for this clarification of Council authority to be interpreted as altering in any way the annual catch limits, accountability measures, national standards, or other sustainable fishing requirements of the MSA (Magnuson).”

In other words, pound-for-pound monitoring, strict annual catch limit requirements and rigid rebuilding requirements will continue under Magnuson requirements, so all that joy and wonder that comes from waiting for new black sea bass and fluke regulations to be handed down will continue. As President Trump said at the bill signing, the overarching federal law still takes priority, and his staff is still the boss.

“The one good thing the Modern Fish Act has done is that it’s gotten us some recognition on Capitol Hill of the millions of jobs sportfishing brings into the U.S. economy,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).

Or as Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) told The Fisherman in December, “While it’s not a complete overhaul of federal marine fisheries management, the version of the Modern Fish Act currently being debated in Congress does move the ball forward on addressing the management and data collection problems affecting many fisheries.”

I don’t expect any immediate changes in the way our fluke, porgies, bluefish or sea bass are managed federally by way of the Magnuson Stevens Act. On the other hand, the Modern Fish Act represents the first time the U.S. Congress has ever passed legislation focused exclusively on saltwater recreational fishing. So yes, we got that goin’ for us, which is nice.

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