On July 11, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 200, better known as the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.

Passed by a 222-193 vote, the bill received yes votes in New Jersey by republicans Frank LoBiondo (2nd District), Tom MacArthur (3rd District), Chris Smith (4th District), and Rodney Frelinghuysen (11th District); democrat Frank Pallone (6th District) also voted yes.

In New York, Buffalo’s Brian Higgins was the sole democrat to join Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Peter King (R-Seaford), Dan Donovan (R-Great Kills), John Faso (R-Kinderhook), Elise M. Stefanik (R-Willsboro), Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford), Tom Reed (R-Corning), John Katko (R-Camillus) and Chris Collins (R-Clarence) in support of the legislation.

The only three yes votes in all of New England came from republican Bruce Poliquin from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, along with democrats Joe Courtney of Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District and Stephen F. Lynch from Boston, MA.

Just nine democrats voted yes nationwide, none from Pennsylvania or Delaware. On the other side of the political aisle, 15 republicans voted against the Magnuson reform bill including New Jersey’s Leonard Lance who represents Hunterdon County and parts of Essex, Morris, Somerset, Union, and Warren counties, along with Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks and Montgomery County and Ryan Costello of Philadelphia.

Sponsored by Alaska republican Rep. Don Young, the bill includes language contained in the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, also referred to as the Modern Fish Act, which is supported by a coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations.

A press release issued by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), Center for Sportfishing Policy (CSP), National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), International Game Fish Association, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Billfish Foundation and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation called last week’s vote “the first time the priorities of the recreational fishing sector are included in the reauthorization of our nation’s primary marine fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.”

Provisions of the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023) were included in H.R. 200 by the House Committee on Natural Resources on December 13, 2017 which was cosponsored by Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA); Brian Babin (R-TX); Clay Higgins (R-LA); Gene Green (D-TX); Robert Wittman (R-VA); Lee Zeldin (R-NY); Glenn Grothman (R-WI); Steve King (R-IA); Marc Veasey (D-TX); Jeff Duncan (R-SC), and Austin Scott (R-GA).

"Marine recreational fishing is not a partisan issue, which was illustrated by the support H.R. 200 received from both parties today in the House," said CSP president Jeff Angers. "We owe great thanks to Chairman Rob Bishop, Congressmen Don Young, Garret Graves, Gene Green and Marc Veasey for working together to properly recognize recreational fishing within the Magnuson-Stevens Act."

In 2014, the priorities of the recreational fishing and boating community were identified and presented to federal policy makers by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management in a report "A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries." This group is also referred to as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group.

Many of the recommendations of the Morris-Deal Commission are addressed by the Modern Fish Act and included in H.R. 200. This legislation addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers, including allowing alternative management tools for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations 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 recreational fishing industry is grateful that H.R. 200, which includes the provisions of the Modern Fish Act, has now passed the U.S. House of Representatives," said ASA President Glenn Hughes, while adding "This legislation will help ensure that the economic, conservation and social values of saltwater recreational fishing will continue well into the future."

"We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for passing commonsense legislation modernizing the federal fisheries management system, which will provide America’s recreational anglers and boaters reasonable and responsible access to public marine resources," said NMMA president Thom Dammrich.

"We are grateful to our champions from both sides of the aisle in the House for recognizing the needs of recreational anglers and advancing this important fisheries management reform," said CCA president Patrick Murray.

"The provisions of the Modern Fish Act contained in H.R. 200 are a top priority for saltwater anglers across the United States and charts a clear course for effective recreational fisheries management while ensuring abundant, sustainable fisheries for future generations." said CSF president Jeff Crane.

"We are on our way to pragmatic Magnuson-Stevens Act reform that will allow better access to rebuilt fish stocks while ensuring long-term sustainability," added RFA executive director Jim Donofrio.

Not everyone in the sportfishing industry supports the proposed reforms to the federal fisheries law. Many fly fishing guides and outfitters organized under the American Fly Fishing Trades Association (AFFTA) in particular feel the current regulatory process works well by continually reducing angler harvest, theoretically producing greater fish abundance in our oceans which in turn should make it easier to catch fish on a fly.

“Anglers know that abundant fish populations are the foundation for a thriving recreational fly fishing industry,” said AFFTA president Bun Bulis following the Committee passage of H.R. 200 back in December. Earlier this year AFFTA had taken an official position that “reauthorization efforts should concentrate on maintaining and strengthening the law’s conservation focus.”

“AFFTA believes a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act must focus on real solutions to the issues facing marine fisheries, solutions that are focused on increasing the number of fish in the ocean, and thus increasing the angling opportunities that drive our industry,” Bulis said last week.

While recreational trade groups continue pushing for support of the Modern Fish Act, an exact Senate version of Rep. Young’s Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act has yet to be introduced.

On July 16, the Washington Post reported that the office of Dan Sullivan, Young’s fellow Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee for fisheries, said the senator “looks forward to pursuing a Senate version of (Magnuson-Stevens Act) reauthorization legislation and working out differences” with the House bill.