S. 1520 — Modernizing Recreational Fishing Management Act of 2017

Commercial and Recreational fishing, photo by John McMurray

Tell Congress: Don’t Turn Back the Clock on Federal Fisheries Management.

The “Modern Fish Act” could roll back many of the conservation gains we’ve made through the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s science-based approach to fisheries management, which has led to the successful rebuilding of many of our fish stocks.

Tell Congress now: Oppose S.1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (Modern Fish Act) and keep the Magnuson-Stevens Act strong. Give our fishing communities a future of abundance.


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 would inappropriately exempt the recreational sector from the necessary management discipline imposed by annual catch limits and accountability measures, while delaying the rebuilding of overfished stocks and unreasonably limiting fishery managers’ ability to develop innovative means to manage commercial fisheries.

Title 1 – Conservation and Management

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: Alternative Fishery Management

  • This section allows regional fishery management councils to use recreational management measures other than 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 LAPPs 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 adopting exceptions to the current 10-year default rebuilding timeline that may be subject to substantial scientific uncertainty.

Sec. 105: Modification to the annual catch limit requirement

  • This section would change ACL requirements by exempting certain data-poor stocks, even though it is exactly those stocks which are subject to the greatest scientific uncertainty with respect to the appropriate overfishing limit, and thus in the greatest need of precautionary management.
  • This section would allow managers to maintain current ACLs for data-poor stocks until a stock survey and stock assessment was conducted; significantly increasing the likelihood that overfishing will occur if, due to a lack of data, the annual catch limit was inadvertently set too high.

Sec. 106: Exempted fishing permits

  • This section removes the ability of fishers to explore and pilot new, innovative and creative ways of managing fisheries by placing undue burdens on the approval process.

Title II – Recreation Fishery Info, 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, but requires no scientific standard or vigor of the third-party information. Thus, it substantially increases the likelihood that the quality of the data used to manage fish stocks will be compromised.
  • 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.

Top photo by John McMurray