Recreational fishing is now a priority at the Commerce Department, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said during the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s third National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Summit on Thursday.
“It was a really uplifting two-day conference,” Nicole Vasilaros, legal and federal affairs vice president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, told Trade Only Today. “To see the highest ranks within the Department of Commerce there acknowledging the economic benefits of recreational fishing and coming together to find concrete solutions to our problems, and to see the highest ranks of NOAA Fisheries Chris Oliver there, was a promising step forward.”
Held in Arlington, Va., March 28-20, the gathering of more than 100 fisheries managers, scientists and leaders in the saltwater recreational fishing community was an opportunity to discuss and collaborate on ways to improve fisheries management and conservation, said American Sportfishing Association director Mike Leonard in a newsletter, The Fishing Wire.
“The recreational fishing community has a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of these favorable conditions to collaboratively advance management and data collection improvements that will result in better fishing opportunities,” Leonard wrote.
A big point of discussion during the summit was the Modern Fish Act, legislation that has made its way through committees on the House and Senate side and is poised to go up for a vote this year, Vasilaros said.
“A lot of the things our community is asking for is contained in the Modern Fish bill, like better data, better access for recreational anglers,” Vasilaros said. “So as soon as Congress gets back from its break, we will be shifting back to trying to get more cosponsors signed onto the bill. We are hopeful that by April or early May we’ll be seeing a vote on the House floor.”
Leonard said some attendees with whom he spoke were taken aback by the coalescence of the recreational fishing industry.
“I talked to several attendees who clearly were not accustomed to our community finally having such an ability to influence the fisheries management system,” Leonard said. “The saltwater recreational fishing community has been frustrated for many years over a federal marine fisheries management system that hasn’t given us a fair shake, leading to less access to marine fisheries resources than we feel we deserve. Now that we have an opportunity to fix that, some are concerned that we might go too far and lose sight of our roots as conservationists.”
“While I can understand where this concern is coming from, I certainly don’t see that being the direction our community is headed going into, or coming out of, this summit,” Leonard said. “The innovative management approaches being discussed aren’t about simply allowing us to kill more fish, but rather allowing access that’s better aligned with the actual abundance of fish stocks instead of overly precautionary guesses. That’s not anti-conservation, it’s anti-mismanagement.”
Right now is the best time in the last 40 years for saltwater recreational fishing issues, said AFTCO president Bill Shedd.
That makes it crucial for the industry to attend the American Boating Congress to let members of Congress how critical the Modern Fish Act is — particularly as opposition groups like commercial fishing and Saving Seafood are voicing their concerns, Vasilaros said.
The bill has to get through the finish line before fall or risk an election year reboot, Vasilaros said.
“This is really a crucial time for our industry to get involved,” Vasilaros said. “We have never gotten this far on saltwater fishing policy and the window is very short.”