Recreational fishing advocates testify at hearing on Magnuson-Stevens Act

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A U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing was held Tuesday in Washington to discuss the law governing saltwater fish stock management, the third in a series held by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to explore what is working and what is not.

Titled “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Oversight of Fisheries Management Successes and Challenges,” the hearing focused on the perspectives of recreational and commercial anglers on the state of the nation’s fishery laws.

Recreational Fishing Alliance executive director Jim Donofrio was among those who testified before the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.

Also testifying on behalf of recreational fishing was NauticStar Boats president Phil Faulkner; Chris Horton, senior director of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation; and Tony Friedrich, a recreational fisherman from Maryland who was the executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association-Maryland from 2009 to 2016.

Donofrio said in his testimony that one objective of the Magnuson-Stevens Act when it became law in 1976 was to promote domestic commercial and recreational fishing under sound conservation and management principles.

“Unfortunately, this noble objective was altered in the 1996 and 2007 reauthorizations and currently, management can only be described as a failure, a total imbalance with recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry losing out,” he said.

“The needs of fish have been put at an inordinate level of priority while the needs of the fishing community and industry have been made an afterthought. This is not sound resource management and this approach is not in line with the original intent of MSA. We are asking that the Senate, along with the House, pass MSA reauthorization bills as soon as possible to bring back a balance to management of our nation’s marine resources.”

“More than 70 percent of boats purchased in the U.S. are bought so owners can fish from them,” Faulkner said in his testimony. “And they buy boats when they have consistent access to America’s public resources.

“Uncertainty about access, uncertainty about consistent fishing seasons, uncertainty about fisheries management will often discourage a potential angler from justifying an investment in purchasing a boat.” he added. “Therefore, the market never reaches its potential.

Horton stressed that the role of recreational anglers in conservation is often misunderstood or ignored.

“It is important that the committee understand and appreciate that managing for better recreational fishing opportunities is not counterproductive to the conservation goals of MSA, as some may lead you to believe, but rather complementary to the goal of sustainability and conservation of our marine resources,” he said in his testimony.

Friedrich said the fishermen he knows care about conservation.

“We worked tirelessly on habitat issues, forage species conservation, and improving scientific methods and practices,” he testified. “We broke “the rules” by working hand in hand with environmental groups. My philosophy was simple: if you put the fish first, everything else works out. … It’s only through working together, bringing recreational and commercial fishermen, scientists and managers to the table, and making decisions that consider the long-term health of the resource, that we can all win.”

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