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September 07, 2012

The Politics Of Fish

Identifying the friends of saltwater anglers on Capitol Hill

A Throw of the Dart to Manage Fisheries

Congress reauthorized the overarching federal law governing fisheries by unanimous consent in December 2006. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) required the Regional Fishery Management Councils to put in place annual catch limits (ACLs) for fisheries by Dec. 31, 2011.

This provision was interpreted by NOAA to apply to every single stock of fish under management, leaving fishery-management councils with the conundrum of either deleting stocks from federal management or applying highly restrictive ACLs based on very poor — or in some cases, nonexistent — data.

Guesswork has no place in the management of America’s natural resources. Management tools such as annual catch limits should be based on actual scientific calculation of what is appropriate for a given stock. The reality is that too often fishery-management decisions have been made using inadequate or outdated data and incomplete analysis. Sound science should drive management of our valuable fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries currently manages 528 stocks of fish or complexes of stocks, but stock-assessment data is adequate and current on only 121 of these 528 stocks — that’s less than 25 percent.

Improving the Science

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced the Fishery Science Improvement Act last year to lift the MSA requirement implementing ACLs on stocks for which there is inadequate data (and no evidence of overfishing). FSIA maintains the conservation tenets of Magnuson, and ensures an end to overfishing based on sound scientific management.

Surprisingly, the big environmental groups like Pew and the Ocean Conservancy are unable to see the forest for the trees. Their contention: If Congress lifts the ACL requirement, NOAA will never have reason to assess those stocks. Sadly, they’ve got it backward. The fact is that until NOAA Fisheries gathers scientific data on stock abundance, the federal agency should not be setting quotas.

FSIA is currently pending before the 112th Congress. It is one of many pieces to the puzzle of fixing federal ­fisheries management.

Friends of Saltwater Recreational Fishermen in the 112th Congress

It’s easy for a politician to say he or she supports ­recreational fishing. After all, who could oppose it? Who would begrudge a family a day on the water? Who is against a grandfather and grandchild wetting a line?

Recreational fishing actually has plenty of ­opponents. Often their opposition to our sport is masked by their support of a competing agenda. In the case of environmentalists, we might be so much collateral damage.

In the case of commercial fishermen, we might be viewed as competitors for the same resource. Commercial fishing has ardent proponents in D.C. It’s no secret on Capitol Hill that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) advocate for ­commercial-fishing interests at every turn. Similarly, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) stand for commercial fisheries.

Ocean environmentalism has its own advocates too. Two California Democrats come to mind as its best-known proponents: Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Sam Farr.

The list below stresses who stands for us — members of Congress who stand up for the average recreational fisher­man. We can rely on these federal legislators for their support; they understand recreational fishing as an economic driver in coastal economies and work with a broad spectrum of interests for ­responsible stewardship.

Many of the 535 members of Congress fish. But most highlighted in this article serve in the trenches, on the committees that oversee saltwater fish/fisheries: the House Committee on Natural Resources and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.