Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization could cover recreational anglers

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In a time when Congress has a hard time passing laws that everyone agrees on, it seemed unlikely in late 2013 that a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act would include changes that would allow the law to approach the management of recreational fishing in a way that was different from commercial fishing.

But there has been encouraging movement this month on reauthorizing the act to include language specifically for saltwater recreational anglers, Center for Coastal Conservation president Jeff Angers told Trade Only Today.

From its inception in 1976 to this point, the act that manages fish stocks and allotments in federally managed saltwater areas has largely addressed commercial fishing. Now there is a push nationwide to extend the act by adding language that would specifically cover recreational anglers in terms of catch limits, allotments and conservation, Angers said.

The act expired in September and has yet to be reauthorized because of some controversy around making the changes, Angers said, which means the most recent reauthorization still applies.

Visits with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, chairman of the subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., ranking member of that subcommittee, went extremely favorably, Angers said.

“Both offices gave uniform input that they wanted to include the type of language that was important to recreational fishing for both conservation and fishing,” Angers said. “It demonstrates how hard we’ve worked to build those relationships in those two states. Those offices couldn’t be farther apart [geographically] and they couldn’t be more different politically, but they’re on the same page.”

Both offices were receptive to a report issued last month by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, which is chaired by Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats president and co-founder Scott Deal. Angers is a member of the steering committee of that group.

The report, called “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” has gained traction with both senators, who seem eager to adapt language into the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization that would apply specifically to recreational fishing.

“I’m very much encouraged by the dialogue that we’ve had for a long time, but especially now,” Angers said. “Both offices expressed appreciation of the Morris-Deal document because it put on paper where we need to be going. Both offices had read and absorbed that and had lots of questions about particulars and how to convert that from visionary language to legislative language.”

On Feb. 27, there was a final subcommittee hearing with different regions to hear various perspectives on the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Angers said. At that hearing, Begich said he wanted to have his exploratory draft of the reauthorization out by late March.

Despite some potential opposition from the commercial fishing industry, several lawmakers are prepared to dig in on behalf of change.

“There are a number of us who are sportsmen in Congress and we’re going to make sure the interests of the recreational angler are protected,” Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., told Trade Only Today. “I believe that can be done without being at the expense of commercial anglers. That’s what we’re going to work toward.”

At the Progressive Miami International Boat Show, Angers and other stakeholders presented the vision to a standing-room-only group. Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association, discussed how many recreational fishing jobs are at stake. That message is resonating with lawmakers, Angers said.

“I think we’re going to see consensus from both the Democratic and Republican staffs to put good stuff in the bill, and I’m really pleased to see that because we really want to avoid any partisanship,” Angers said.

“It’s encouraging to be part of the bipartisan process on an issue that has to be bipartisan,” Angers said. “Fish don’t understand when they cross from state waters into federal waters, and the politics on regulating catching them has to be bipartisan. With our chairman and ranking member, we find ourselves in a good place there.”

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