Just before the start of the conference entitled Managing Our Nations Fisheries 3, in Washington D.C. (where I am as I write), comes a revealing new report that documents the differences between commercial and recreational fishing in this country in terms of harvest and economics.
You can read the full report prepared by Southwick Associates for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) from most-recent available data, but some of the most interesting highlights include these:
- Recreational fishing takes 2 percent of all finfish harvested; commercial fishing takes 98 percent.
- That relatively tiny harvest by recreational anglers contributes three times more to the national economy than does the relatively huge total of commercial landings.
- In terms of value to the national economy, one pound of fish caught recreationally adds roughly $150; one pound of fish caught commercially adds about $1.50.
- For 100,000 pounds of fish landed, the recreational sector supports 210 jobs; the same harvest supports 4.5 jobs commercially.
I agree with ASA president Mike Nussman: This is not about sharing these statistics simply for bragging rights, nor have I any interest in thumbing my nose at the commercial-fishing industry. Commercial fishing is huge and important in so many ways. This is about establishing beyond any doubt how vast and indispensable recreational fishing has become in the country.
What makes these statistics so absolutely critical is their implications for fisheries management: how fisheries managers allocate limited stocks between these two major user groups, as well as how they allocate limited resources in terms of assessment, research, enforcement and so on.
Particularly at the federal level, management of saltwater fisheries has a long tradition of focusing on commercial fishing. Recreational fisheries have varied from orphan to afterthought.
That’s changed somewhat in recent years, but — witness the unprecedented uproar throughout the Gulf region over red snapper management — NOAA Fisheries has yet to gain the confidence of its recreational constituency. The agency needs to manage both fish and people effectively; it’s done far better at the former than the latter.
The numbers in this report could help create a paradigm shift and that, I think, is what’s needed: a shift to manage sectors not simply according to how much each harvests, but to consider the economic value of what the sectors harvest.
And such a paradigm shift comes at a good time, with the Magnuson-Stevens Act — the law of the land governing federal fisheries — up for reauthorization soon. This means congress will have the chance to amend the MSA to much more effectively and equitably deal with recreational fisheries as it manages the nation’s resources in decades to come.