Senate Hearing Explores Southeast Marine Fisheries Management Issues
Sportfishing industry outlines priorities for improving federal recreational saltwater fisheries management
With much of the controversy surrounding federal management of saltwater recreational fishing centered in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard held a hearing to gather perspectives regarding the nation’s federal fisheries management law. The hearing examined the progress and challenges faced in the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in meeting the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) since the Act was last reauthorized in 2006.
“On behalf of the nation’s sportfishing industry, I’d like to thank Chairman Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the members of the committee for holding this important hearing to gain insights into federal saltwater fisheries management issues in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). “Saltwater recreational fishing in the Southeast contributes more than $15 billion to the region and supports more than 140,000 jobs. However, this tremendous economic driver is in many cases being stymied by a federal fisheries management system that does not adequately meet the needs of the recreational fishing community.”
Nussman further said, “Since its original passage in 1976, the MSA has made notable progress in ending overfishing, rebuilding depleted fish stocks, protecting essential fish habitat and a variety of other improvements to the nation’s marine resources. However, despite its significant socioeconomic, cultural and conservation value, recreational fishing’s importance is still not proportionally reflected in the MSA or the resultant federal marine fisheries management process, which remain primarily focused on commercial fishing.”
“I think the biggest take away from the testimony we will hear today is that Magnuson-Stevens, as currently drafted, simply does not work for the recreational fishing community,” said Sen. Rubio during the hearing. “It is clear that the issues of the recreational community cannot be ignored in the next iteration of Magnuson-Stevens and I am committed to reforming the law so that it works for every fisherman in Florida and across the United States – the commercial fishermen, the recreational fishermen, and the charter fishermen alike.”
John Brownlee, editor-in-chief of Salt Water Sportsman magazine and an ASA member, testified during today’s hearing on the failings of federal fisheries management to recognize the significance and economic impact of recreational fishing. In particular, Brownlee highlighted the contentious management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico as a case study where federal fisheries management is not matching the interests of recreational fishermen.
“The closure of the red snapper fishery due to the inflexible rebuilding requirements in the MSA has caused great hardship among charter boats and rank-and-file recreational fishermen alike,” said Brownlee. “The snapper closure was based on outdated and incomplete science, but while the fishery was closed, recreational fishermen reported seeing more red snapper than ever before while fishing for other species. This discrepancy between the reality anglers experienced on the water, and what federal fishery managers told them was happening, has created widespread cynicism and anger toward the entire management process – a regrettable situation that seems to have no easy solution.”
This past October, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) received a commitment from Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that the agency will take steps to address the current allocation issues in the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper fishery, as well as to implement the broad allocation provisions of NOAA’s own National Catch Share Policy. In addition, legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to transfer management of Gulf red snapper to the Gulf states.
“Red snapper is the poster child for how the current federal saltwater fisheries management system isn’t working for many recreational fisheries,” said Nussman. “Trying to manage recreational fishermen under a commercial fishing management system is the proverbial square peg and round hole. The upcoming MSA reauthorization provides an opportunity to adjust this management system to finally address the inherently different management philosophies and tools that are needed for recreational saltwater fisheries.”