When Sen. Doug Jones began his tenure in January, a group of recreational anglers reached out to him asking for his support of the Modern Fish Act, a bipartisan bill that would refine the way federal saltwater fisheries are managed.
“It didn’t take long for me to understand how important this was to my state,” said Jones, an Alabama Democrat, on a conference call Thursday. “Anglers, boaters and all Alabamans are counting on this legislation.”
The bill has passed committee in both the House and the Senate, and has been passed by the House. It’s awaiting passage in the Senate, in part due to the difficulty scheduling floor time.
Boaters and recreational anglers contribute $600 million a year, through excise taxes on boats and other equipment, to the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund.
“Recreational boaters and anglers are our country’s original conservationists and directly contribute to conservation [through the fund],” Jones said.
Revenues from manufacturer excise taxes on fishing equipment, import duties on tackle and boats, and a portion of the gasoline fuel tax attributable to small engines and powerboats are deposited or transferred to the fund, which collects interest.
The Modern Fish Act would fine-tune the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs saltwater fishing in federal waters, said Mike Leonard, conservation director of the American Sportfishing Association, during the call.
Modifications would include the boating industry collecting data differently than commercial fishing without negatively impacting the parts of the law that are working, Leonard said.
“The management targets for the commercial industry have never really been appropriate for recreational fishing,” Leonard said, in part because catch data is measured in tonnage.
The commercial industry is responsible for 98 percent of fish harvested from those waters, and recreational fishing accounts for 2 percent, Leonard said.
Though recreational anglers take 2 percent of fish harvested, the industry accounts for more than half of the economic impact of fishing overall, said National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich.
Seeing politicians from across the political spectrum — from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — coalesce around the legislation has been encouraging, Center for Sportfishing Policy president Jeff Angers said.
“When you see one fifth of the senate cosponsoring this legislation, I think we’ve hit the sweet spot,” Angers said. “It’s a balanced piece of legislation.”
The group is hopeful the bill will pass the Senate this fall.
“This bill really does some fine-tuning to federal fishing management,” Dammrich said. “It’s been vetted by conservation groups, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, and it’s a bill we are very hopeful will get across finish line very shortly.”
“We remain in the game to get this bill across the finish line all the way through the end of the year,” Angers said. “I would say the sooner it happens, the better.”