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ABC 2015: NOAA talks about new saltwater fishing policy

A top NOAA official introduced the agency’s accompanying implementation plan to the marine industry on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — Only 60 days after presenting the first-ever national saltwater recreational fisheries policy, a top National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official introduced the agency’s accompanying implementation plan to the marine industry on Tuesday, marking a “cultural shift” at NOAA to better recognize the importance and standing of the recreational fishing community.

“There was a perception that … there was a bias in the agency favoring commercial fishing and not really giving adequate consideration to saltwater recreational fishing interests,” assistant administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck told boating and fishing representatives at the American Boating Congress. “But it is clear that both elements are very important. The policy is our pledge as an agency to at every step take into account all relevant interests in both the commercial and recreational communities.”

Sobeck presented the policy at the Miami International Boat Show in February and announced it on April 13. The policy and plan are in response to requests in the report titled “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” by Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats president Scott Deal. “We have taken this report very seriously,” she said.

“We are not going to promise outcomes … but we need to consider the interest and views of our recreational partners and stakeholders, and not at the last minute after we have already developed positions,” Sobeck said.

She said the next step is to implement plans in five regional areas and she cited the recreational fishing community’s role in great conservational gains in the last decade.

“Our fisheries have never been more sustainable,” said Sobeck, who took her post in January 2014. “We have seen incredible success stories over the past five to 10 years; we have recovered a huge number of our fishing stocks.”

Looking ahead, Sobeck said there is an opportunity for the boating and fishing communities to work with the commercial fishing community and NOAA to protect coastal habitats.

“If you don’t have coastal habitat for fisheries, you’re not going to have fish and fishing and demand for boats,” she said. “If we are not careful, we are going to see the disappearance of a lot of coastal habitats that are really important to ecological resilience and economic resilience.”

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