A piece of legislation aimed at updating and reforming the Magnuson Stevens Act (Magnuson) is set for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.*

The Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (HR 200) introduced by Alaska republican Don Young originally cleared the House Committee on Natural Resources by a 23-17 vote in December. The bill now has 11 cosponsors including Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York.

The House Committee on Rules will meet on Monday, June 25 at 5 p.m. to discuss HR 200 procedures, and it’s expected the legislation will get a vote in the full House of Representatives as early as Tuesday morning.

The legislation would effectively change the rules regarding the application of annual catch limits (ACLs) in the recreational fishing sector and replace the 10-year deadline on stock-rebuilding programs to allow regional management councils more freedom to use the biology and life cycle of each species.

For recreational fishing groups who have been pushing for passage of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act), this important fisheries news on Capitol Hill this week is cause for optimism.

“If passed and language from it is put into the senate Modern Fish Act we will have the ACL and rebuilding flexibility we need to move forward on rebuilt stocks like sea bass,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). “In New Jersey, we need Rep. Frank Pallone to vote for bill. He is key to getting other democrats onboard,” he said.

Rep. Pallone had long advocated for additional flexibility in Magnuson, originally sponsoring the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2008. "When deciding how best to rebuild fish stocks in complex environments, we must use sound biology and science not arbitrary deadlines set by Congress," Rep. Pallone said 10 years ago when first introducing his Magnuson flexibility bill, adding “The legislation I’m introducing in Congress is about rational rebuilding, and it is the best way to rebuild our fisheries without bankrupting tackle shops, party boats and commercial fishermen."

In 2009, Senator Charles Schumer introduced a Senate version of Pallone’s “flexibility” act to bring what he had called much needed science-based modernization and flexibility to outdated federal rules stifling Long Island’s fishing community. "The bottom line is that we need better science and more flexibility in our fishing management regulations. We can rebuild fishing stocks and allow for a more nuanced approach to regulations that is not overly onerous on our fishing communities," Sen. Schumer said in 2009. "Our legislation provides some much needed balance and flexibility within the existing system to both preserve our fishing stocks and allow fisheries to thrive and grow."

Donofrio said the Young bill expected to be voted on by the House this week has the same elements of fisheries reform originally supported by both Pallone and Schumer during the Obama administration.

Young’s bill does not yet have a Senate companion, and RFA and other recreational fishing organizations including the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) have been actively lobbying in the U.S. Senate for the Modern Fish Act (S 1520). That legislation has the support of both of New Jersey’s U.S. senators, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez. Out of 16 sponsors in the U.S. Senate, the bipartisan Modern Fish Act has the support of nine democrats and seven republicans.

As reported throughout the recreational fishing industry – and here at The Fisherman – the Modern Fish Act “addresses many of the recreational fishing community’s priorities” in terms of reforming the federal fisheries law, but it doesn’t address “all” of our current management problems. But according to Donofrio, the elements of the Modern Fish Act which would help bring relief to black sea bass and fluke anglers were already incorporated into the House bill that’s up for a vote this week, and he hopes to see a similar Senate bill from the office of Senator Dan Sullivan, another Alaska Republican, in the coming weeks.

"The Modern Fish Act as a stand alone bill will not fix the problems we have in the Mid-Atlantic and New England fisheries,” Donofrio said. “We need the Young house bill rebuilding flexibility and ACL language in a finished bill that will go to the President."

In a support letter last week to House Speaker Paul Ryan and democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a group of 10 leading recreational fishing and boating organizations including RFA, ASA, NMMA, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, The Billfish Foundation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership all encouraged congressional support for HR 200. Noting how provisions of the Modern Fish Act were included in HR 200 during the House Committee markup back in December, the letter of 10 stressed how “these provisions would bring parity to recreational and commercial fishing.”

“We are fully supporting the vote tomorrow based on it containing our language from the Modern Fish Act,” said NMMA Government and Legal Affairs representative Nicole Vasilaros on Monday. “That is our number one priority and getting movement in the Senate.”

“America’s fisheries are governed by an outdated regulatory scheme and inflexible decrees imposed by distant bureaucrats,” said Natural Resources Committee chairman Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, after the December committee vote on HR 200. Describing the measure as one of his top two priorities, Rep. Bishop at the time said “Fishermen and biologists on the ground should be partners in the formation of management plans, not powerless onlookers. This bill provides flexibility so we can better meet local needs, expand economic activity and conserve ecosystems.”

Commercial fishing organizations also rallying support for this week’s vote include the Southeastern Fisheries Association and the Garden State Seafood Association (GSSA). According to press reports, the commercial groups say that HR 200 would give the regional fishery management councils the flexibility they need to balance preservation of the species with the interests of commercial fishing operations. Many groups working to support the fisheries reform effort believe that if the majority of commercial and recreational interests can come to an agreement on a piece of sensible fisheries legislation, that perhaps even republicans and democrats on Capitol Hill can follow suit.

Opposition to the legislation is primarily from Oceana, Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Resources Defense Council, Marine Fish Conservation Network and the Environmental Defense Fund, as well as several fishing business organizations that own catch shares and exclusive harvest rights to certain fish species, like the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. HR 200 specifically would limit the spread of catch share programs that have negatively impacted saltwater anglers and fishing communities where they’ve already been adopted against the wishes of recreational fishing advocates.

* UPDATED JUNE 26, 2018: After clearing the Rules Committee on Monday night, the full House vote on HR 200 was pushed back until after the Fourth of July. There’s still time to contact your congressman by phone to ask for a YES VOTE on HR 200, The Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.