Fish For The Common Good, Not For A Few

Bill of Rights

In this nation, great laws protect us from ourselves. National laws such as Bill of Rights, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Civil Rights Act all serve the purpose of the common good and yet protect the rights of individuals.

Since its inception in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the fishing law of this nation, has protected the common good by managing fisheries for abundance (over 40 species rebuilt since its inception) so there are more fish to catch and eat for all.

More fish for all… from the commercial fishers in Wickford Village (my home port) to Alaska, from those that fish on my charter boat and to the red snapper boats in the Gulf, from the children and families that fish from the town dock to the wharfs in San Francisco. The focus of the MSA has been on the fish stocks, allowing them to grow to abundance for all.

There is a movement in this country to change the focus of the MSA to take more fish for the short-term gains of a few. The few are sponsors and supporters of the new version of House bill H.R. 200, “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.” The operative words in the title are “strengthening” and “flexibility.”

The bill aims to “strengthen” select fishing communities for short-term economic gains while giving them the “flexibility” to harvest more fish when it is economically expedient to do so. There is nothing in the bill that aims to cultivate fisheries to abundance.

H.R. 200 was revised as it came out of the House Natural Resources Committee on December 13th, 2017. The bill is riddled with special interest provisions for the Gulf of Mexico states. H.R. 200 specifically mentions the North Pacific region and the Gulf States, but I say what about the rest of the country? This bill should focus on the fishing law of this nation, not special interests for a few. Most importantly, the bill weakens MSA and provides states with the tools to control fishing in their areas, taking more fish if they chose.

The fish in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Alaska or New Jersey belong just as much to those living in Minnesota and Kansas. They are the fish of the people of the United States of America. They should be regulated for the common good and not the good of a few.

Trickle-down fish-economics doesn’t work for the fish

H.R. 200 was always the bill of big business, tourism and the recreational fishing industry in the Gulf, and now it has added support from boat, fishing tackle and gear manufacturers who originally supported H.R. 2023.

The strategy is like trickle down fish-economics… what is good for the boat manufacturers, fishing gear manufacturers and the tourism industries is good for fishermen and the fish. This is want they would have you believe; however, it is just not true.

History has shown that focusing solely on big business is a recipe for disaster and collapsed fish stocks. Examples include the cod fishery in New England, the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and the Department of Commerce’s approval of New Jersey’s fishery management plan last year for summer flounder, even though the plan supported overfishing. When the interests of big business are put before those of the fish, overfishing occurs and fish stocks collapse.

Some good in H.R. 200

Some of the recreational fishing goals of H.R. 200 are good, but they can occur under the existing MSA, which would allow us to continue to rebuild fisheries with a science-based approach. Putting recreational fishing on a higher plane, dedicating more resources to science and data collection and thinking about recreational fishing as an experiential activity rather than one that has catching pounds of fish as a goal can occur under existing law. Recreational fishing is an important part of our local, regional and national economy, just as commercial fishing is. We need to enhance existing law to accommodate this experiential difference.

The economic impact of recreational fishing often equals and surpasses the impact of commercial fishing in many states, including my home state of Rhode Island. It is not a matter of either/or, as both commercial and recreational fishing play an important part in our economy and should be reflected with improvements to our national fishing law as fisheries evolve and change in this country.

Both the Modern Fish Act (that did not get out of committee) and H.R. 200 eliminate catch limits in many cases and reduce rebuilding time frames for overfished stocks.

H.R. 2023 was supported by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and by many of its members. They now have “switched” their support to H.R. 200. At the bottom of their press releases, ASA states that they advocate for the “interests of the sport fishing and boating industry” (and not the fish or the common good of the people).

Now H.R. 200 has more special interest group support than before, all aimed at weakening MSA by adding flexibility to catch and harvest limits as well as rebuilding timelines to enhance short-term economic gain. The bill attempts to apply trickle down fish-economics to the fishing law of our nation.

Like any other great law of this nation, we need to keep the Magnuson-Stevens Act strong so it represents the common good, allowing fish stocks to grow to abundance for all to catch and eat and protects us from ourselves.

About Dave Monti

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a vice president of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association, an active member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council.

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