House committee approves saltwater fisheries reform bill

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Boating and fishing advocates applauded industry support of the Modern Fish Act — which passed a House committee on Wednesday and includes provisions that would increase access for recreational saltwater anglers — but say stakeholders need to stay active so the legislation will pass the Senate. 

Boating and fishing advocates applauded industry support of the Modern Fish Act — which passed a House committee on Wednesday and includes provisions that would increase access for recreational saltwater anglers — but say stakeholders need to stay active so the legislation will pass the Senate. 

The Modern Fish Act, which includes saltwater recreational fishing management provisions and was endorsed by a vast coalition of boating and fishing industry stakeholders, cleared a House committee on Wednesday.

The Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R. 200, a bill sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, that amends the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to provide flexibility for fishery managers and more stability for anglers.

“We’re very happy … but the message we want to send is, it’s a piece of what needs to happen in order for us to improve access,” Martin Peters, government relations and marketing senior manager with Yamaha Marine, told Trade Only Today. “We don’t want people to think we achieved something and then move on.

“We want to be sure we thank all the dealers and boatbuilders who have supported the Modern Fish Act on the House side, but we expect it will be even more difficult on the Senate side,” Peters said. “In some ways we’ve got an even taller order because we’ve got to get it done in the first quarter.”

The industry coalesced around the Modern Fish Act, something that Ellen Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said was crucial to the bill’s passage in the House.

“We still have work to do, but this is a good step,” Hopkins told Trade Only. “We are certainly pleased and are grateful to all our partners and the collective industry who have come together to make this happen — a good example of how effective we can be when we come together to advocate for our industry and create a louder voice.”

On April 6, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., introduced H.R. 2023, the Modern Fish Act, to address the challenges facing recreational fishermen in the federal fisheries management system.

He was joined by a bipartisan list of 24 co-sponsors. The original ones include Reps. Gene Green, D-Texas; Daniel Webster, R-Fla.; and Rob Wittman, R-Va. The Modern Fish Act’s legislative language was ultimately included in H.R. 200.

The recreational fishing and boating community identified and presented priorities to federal policy-makers that were developed by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management — often referred to as the Morris-Deal Commission — a reference to co-chairmen Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of the Maverick Boat Group.

In 2014, the Morris-Deal Commission released “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” which included six key policy changes to produce the full range of saltwater recreational fishing’s social, economic and conservation benefits to the nation.

On Dec. 8, a coalition of organizations, including the National Marine Manufacturers Association, requested in a letter to the Committee on Natural Resources that the Modern Fish Act be in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and moved to the House floor for final passage.

In a show of support, 135 marine recreational fishing and boating industry executives signed a letter to the committee on Monday backing the Modern Fish Act and its inclusion in the final reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The saltwater fishing economy spans the entire United States, not just the coastline, as demonstrated by the list of signatories.

“America’s 11 million saltwater anglers have a $63 billion economic impact annually and generate 440,000 jobs,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association, in a statement. “However, recreational fishing has been treated as an afterthought in the federal fisheries management system for decades. If enacted, H.R. 200 would finally give saltwater recreational fishing the attention it deserves in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”

“The need to revise the one-size-fits-all approach of the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been abundantly clear in recent years as anglers face unreasonably limited access to public marine resources,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the NMMA. “Stakeholders of the recreational boating industry, a uniquely American-made industry with an economic footprint of more than $121 billion annually and more than 650,000 American jobs, are encouraged by the committee’s action today and we hope to see final passage by the House very soon.”

“This is a major step forward in implementing the vision set forth by the Morris-Deal Report for the future of saltwater recreational fishing,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “The importance of this legislation to the recreational fishing and boating community was made clear by tens of thousands of advocates who have made their voices heard by contacting their elected officials in recent months.

“The provisions of the Modern Fish Act included in H.R. 200 would provide parity for federally managed recreational fisheries while continuing to safeguard the conservation of our fisheries resources,” said Jeff Crane, president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “In addition to Chairman Bishop, Congressman Young and Congressman Graves, a big thanks to the bipartisan House leadership of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus for their co-sponsorship of these important measures on behalf of America’s anglers.”

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