S. 1520 — Modernizing Recreational Fishing Management Act of 2017

Commercial and Recreational fishing, photo by John McMurray

Updated March 19, 2018

Analysis

The language of S. 1520 arises out of the premise that recreational fishing is essentially different than commercial fishing, that the Magnuson-Stevens Act was a law intended to manage commercial fisheries and, thus, that Magnuson-Stevens needs to be amended to accommodate the recreational fishery’s needs.

The Network disagrees with that underlying premise. Both recreational and commercial fisheries are, at their heart, activities that remove fish from wild populations, and both activities can harm such wild populations if they are not adequately managed.

While the commercial fishery’s total landings are higher than those of the recreational fishery, much of those landings are attributable to a handful of fisheries for low-value species that are caught in very high volumes, such as walleye pollock (3.4 billion pounds) and menhaden (1.7 billion pounds). In many of the high-value fisheries that attract recreational fishermen, recreational landings can equal, and sometimes far exceed, those of the commercial sector.

Given the recreational fishery’s significant impact on the health of many fish populations, S.1520 could delay the rebuilding of overfished stocks and unreasonably limit fishery managers’ ability to develop innovative means to manage commercial fisheries, while potentially leading to confusion regarding the use of certain management measures.

In late February 2018, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) worked with a bipartisan group of senators and submitted an Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute to address many of the concerns that anglers, small boat commercial fishermen, conservationists and scientist had with the original bill. On February 28, the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation reported S. 1520 out of committee.

Although the Network is encouraged by the bipartisan progress made, we continue to have concerns regarding some provisions within this bill.

Title 1 – Process for allocation review for South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico mixed-use fisheries

Sec. 101: Process for allocation review for SA and GofM mixed-use fisheries

  • This section lays the groundwork for systematic reallocation of fish between commercial and recreational fishing sectors in mixed-use fisheries of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Harvest allocation in any fishery is an issue that should be addressed when, in the discretion of a regional fishery management council, such action is justified by conditions in such fishery. Arbitrarily imposing timelines for repeatedly re-examining allocations wastes council resources and unnecessarily risks controversy between council members representing the affected sectors.

Sec. 102: Fishery management measures

  • This section specifically authorizes regional fishery management councils to use recreational management measures in addition to catch limits. This language is unnecessary, as alternative fishery management measures are already permitted by Magnuson-Stevens, so long as such measures do not lead to overfishing and allow the timely rebuilding of overfished stocks; detailed guidelines for the use of such measures can be found in the Guidelines for National Standard 1 published by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the Federal Register.

Sec. 103: Study of limited access privilege programs for mixed-use fisheries

  • Requires a study by the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and a subsequent report to Congress on the impacts of limited access privilege programs (LAPPs) with specific study criteria, as opposed to an outright moratorium of LAPPs, but, the bill places a temporary moratorium on any new LAPP development until that report is published, and offers an exemption for any LAPPs under development by the Councils now. Such moratorium unnecessarily limits fishery managers’ ability to use LAPPs, a tool which has effectively ended chronic overfishing in some fisheries.

    • Any LAPP under development now will have to be revised based on the NAS report’s recommendations, which will effectively halt any real development of any LAPP, which could perpetuate overfishing in fisheries which have proven resistant to other management measures.

Sec. 104: Rebuilding overfished fisheries

  • This section weakens the conservation measures needed to rebuild an overfished species as it introduces uncertainty into the management process by replacing the current 10-year default rebuilding timeline with a new timeline, based on the time it would take to rebuild the stock with no fishing mortality at all plus one mean generation, both of which may be subject to substantial scientific uncertainty.
  • This section also adds valuable guidelines that the Secretary of Commerce must use to determine whether a fishery management plan is making adequate progress toward ending overfishing and rebuilding an overfished stock, and requires that any fishery management plan, adopted after a previous management plan has failed to achieve its objective, shall have at least a 75% chance of success.

Sec. 105: Authorization for multispecies complexes and multiyear catch limits

  • This section permits a regional fishery management council to establish annual catch limits for a multispecies complex, and to establish annual catch limits for each year within a continuous period that shall not exceed three years.

Sec. 106: Exempted fishing permits

  • This section requires NMFS to respond to a state government or fishery management body that objects to the issuance of an exempted fishery permit, and explain why such permit was issued.
  • This section also requires that all exempted fisheries permits be reviewed every 12 months after such permit is issued, to determine whether the issuance caused any unintended negative impacts.

Title 2 – Recreation Fishery Information, Research, and Development

Sec. 201: Data Collection

  • This section attempts to formalize the inclusion of information from third-parties into fisheries management decisions, particularly from the recreational sector, provided that such data represents “the best available science.”
  • This section also seeks to implement the recommendations of the recent NAS report, “Review of the Marine Recreational Information Program (2017).” However, in almost all recreational fisheries, regulations, including season length, are set before the season begins and remain unchanged until the season’s scheduled end; thus, the emphasis on “the needs of in-season management” threatens to unnecessarily limit the use of the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) while providing no other readily available and equally accurate means of estimating recreational harvest.

Sec. 202: Recreational Data Collection

  • This section calls for formal federal-state partnerships to improve angler registry and data collection programs, which is good.
  • But the section also calls for further examination of MRIP, despite the fact that a generally favorable review of MRIP was just completed by the National Academy in February 2017.

Title 3 – Rule of Construction

Sec. 301: Rule of construction

  • This section provides that nothing in S. 1520 shall be construed as modifying the requirements of sections 301(a) (National Standard 1, which prohibits overfishing and requires stocks to be managed for optimum yield), 302(h)(6) (which requires the regional fishery management councils develop annual catch limits for each managed fishery, which do not exceed the harvest level recommended by such council’s scientific and statistical committee) and 303(a)(15) (which requires that annual catch limits and accountability measures be included in each fishery management plan).

Top photo by John McMurray