NOAA's New Rec-Fish Policy Looks Good — So Far

The words are right in this unprecedented national policy; will the actions match? Public comments could make a difference.

anglers having fun

anglers having fun

A couple of things I’ve noted about policy statements: Much lies in how one chooses to read/interpret the words (rather like the Bible and the Constitution) and, second, even those in enthusiastic support of a given policy statement can’t deny that there’s always that devil hiding in the details.

With that in mind, I looked over the new National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy that NOAA released yesterday (Nov. 19).

Having attended the agency's national 2014 Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit in the D.C. area, I can say that this plan reflects the concerns and suggestions made by industry, conservation and government leaders, as well as those in the now well-known "Morris-Deal" Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management.

The very fact that NOAA is establishing a national saltwater rec-fisheries policy should be a huge and long overdue step forward for 11 million saltwater anglers. Indeed, this announcement has been met with considerable praise from the likes of the American Sportfishing Association and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Certainly the Public Comment Draft of the policy contains all the best intentions, as it is designed "to foster, support, and enhance a broadly accessible and diverse array of sustainable recreational saltwater fishing opportunities for the benefit and enjoyment of all Americans."

NOAA/NMFS has become a favorite whipping boy for anglers dissatisfied with any/all federal fisheries policies/laws. Often there’s valid reason for some of that hostility; often it’s reactionary and unfair.

Certainly, all the right words in a policy document hardly guarantee the right actions. Words are easy; making them happen is not. The thousands of anglers and fishing interests now alienated by policies like that of red snapper restrictions and sector separation in the Gulf of Mexico will be a pretty tough sell when it comes to believing that NOAA wants to help recreational anglers.

Still, even those angry over NOAA’s management would do well to read the draft policy and take advantage of the public comment opportunity. Hey, they’re asking; at least speak your mind, given the chance. NOAA has made it easy to do that.

Then let's see what the final rec-fishing policy looks like and how it might affect/change approaches to difficult and hot-button issues. What I'm seeing now looks good, but I'd say the jury is still out.