In the weeks leading up to the November election, boating and fishing advocates were quietly working with transition teams of the Clinton and Trump campaigns to ensure that saltwater fishing isn’t overlooked as interest groups clamor for a spot at the table.
Several stakeholders in the recreational fishing and boating industries released a set of recommendations for the incoming administration and Congress to change the way federal overseers allocate saltwater fish. The Center for Coastal Conservation and its 10 member groups issued a report — A Vision for Marine Fisheries Management in the 21st Century: Priorities for a New Administration — recommending a government shift away from using the same tools to manage commercial fisheries as it does for recreational fishing.
“We wanted to get before the transition teams the importance of saltwater recreational fishing and what needs to happen,” says National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich.
The transition teams of both candidates began work long in advance of the Nov. 8 election, Dammrich says. “Once the election is held, they’ve got 100 days until inauguration,” Dammrich says, adding that a lot typically happens in those first 100 days.
That conversation will continue all the way through the inauguration and the president’s whole first term, he says. Advocates also have shared the document with every member of Congress “because some of the things we’re asking for can be done at the direction of the president … and some will require legislative actions,” Dammrich says. “There will be a number of new senators and congressmen in Washington, and we want to get them and educate them early.”
A shifting vision
“One of the most important things is the recommendation that we get our own Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee,” says Center for Coastal Conservation president Jeff Angers. “The current Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee is dominated by the commercial industry. We really need our own. We have different constituents, different environmental impacts.”
“Most anglers come from a background where the states manage fish and game for the benefit of all users, not only those users who were gifted some portion of it for their personal profit,” the document says. “Anglers expect that federal fishery resources will be managed the same way, but they are not.”
Few Americans realize that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration actually divides total fish catch between for-profit commercial companies and recreational anglers, the document points out — something advocates are working to change on Capitol Hill.
“NOAA makes this allocation based on historical catch numbers from decades ago — when millions fewer of us were enjoying … recreational fishing,” the report says. “The doors to reallocation have long been rusted shut.”
“It’s like taking a national forest and saying, ‘We’re giving these three companies the trees on it,’ ” Dammrich says. “These commercial fishermen with catch shares, they don’t have to pay for them. They’re just given to a few sea lords, as they’re called.”
Beyond the coasts
The vision is “an evolution” of the Morris-Deal Commission report — a document released in 2014 outlining what should be changed regarding the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the governing legislation on federal fisheries management, according to Martin Peters, government relations manager for the Yamaha Marine Group.
“I see this as an evolution of Morris-Deal, and it is delivered in a time that is critical,” says Peters. “Next year is when we’re hoping the Senate will take up reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens. The CCC is leading the effort to see that key members of the Senate understand the potential value of alternative management methods and the need for change in the way marine fisheries are managed, and also the economic impact that recreational anglers have in coastal communities — and the country.”
For instance, Yamaha has a propeller plant in Indiana that casts stainless props for outboard-powered boats. “That’s a growing enterprise for us. It’s in Indianapolis, and even though it’s not on the coast, a huge percentage of that ends up on the coast on boats used in salt water,” Peters says. “It’s not just coastal economies that are affected; it’s the entire marine industry. It’s almost 500,000 jobs that depend upon recreational fishing.”
Federal fisheries managers continue to reduce recreational fishing season for Gulf red snapper; the season was an average of 10 days in federal waters between 2014 and 2016. That’s down from 180 days 10 years ago despite arguments from recreational fishing stakeholders that the supply has largely been replenished.
“The other thing that’s significant in this vision is it will help members of Congress and their staff understand the economic impact of what we do,” Peters says. “We generate $70 billion annually — that’s nothing to sneeze at. I think any staff member or member of Congress will certainly get that message.”
A question of access
Besides allocation and economic impact, the document also focuses on other types of government oversight regarding recreational fishing. A recent expansion of two Pacific marine monuments and a new marine monument in the Atlantic explicitly make a distinction between the two, banning commercial fishing but allowing for recreational angling.
“While we have been pleased to see important decisions made in recent years to maintain access in various federal waters, the sportfishing community has also unfortunately seen federal management policies in some national parks, national marine sanctuaries and national marine monuments prevent anglers from accessing these public resources,” the document says, citing the Biscayne National Park closing in Florida.
“Total access closures, such as marine reserves, should be a measure of last resort and only be considered after well-enforced traditional fisheries management tools have been exhausted,” the report says. “Too often, access closures have been unnecessarily implemented before less impactful — and historically successful — tactics have been attempted. Bag limits, size limits, quotas and seasonal closures must have all been unsuccessfully tried before a total closure merits consideration.”
“We want Americans to have access to America’s public resources. That’s an issue handled by many different federal agencies,” said Angers, who thanked all who helped draft the document — particularly renowned artist and photographer Guy Harvey, who gave some of his photos to illustrate the 13-page document.
The groups involved in the report, in addition to the NMMA and CCC, were the American Sportfishing Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, the International Game Fish Association, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the Billfish Foundation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“While progress has been made in recent years to improve saltwater recreational fisheries management, many important opportunities and challenges remain,” says American Sportfish Association president and CEO Mike Nussman. “We look forward to working with the next administration to fully develop our outdoor economy.”
A non-partisan issue
The recent victories by fishing advocates to keep recreational fishing permitted in national marine monuments designated under both the Bush and the Obama administrations helps speak to the nonpartisan nature of boating. Dammrich hopes the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act will be passed during the lame-duck session, which he says will help answer saltwater fishing as it relates to red snapper, but says, “A lot is going to depend on the election. But we’re working on it constantly, and we’re ready for whatever happens.”
The Gulf red snapper recreational fishing season has been a contentious point between anglers and federal fisheries managers for years, with seasons being shaved to under two weeks for the past several years. Stakeholders have long advocated for state oversight of saltwater fishing, as opposed to the federal oversight by NOAA.
Although saltwater fishing can tend to be more regional, like the issues of ethanol, and less partisan, Dammrich says the more liberal members of Congress are “inclined to listen to environmentalists more than recreational fishing. On recreational saltwater fishing, you have environmentalists who have an agenda all their own, and it’s anti-recreational fishing. But in general it’s nonpartisan.”
Find the whole document at the Center for Coastal Conservation website or at www.coastalconservation.us/docs/AVisionForMarineFisheriesManagement21stCentury.pdf
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.