The Symposium panel included Charles Witek, Esq., author/blogger and recreational fisherman, West Babylon, NY; Russel Dunn, NOAA Fisheries, National Policy Advisor on Recreational Fisheries; Ben Bulis, President, American Fly Fishing Trade Association; John McMurray, Charter Captain, One More Cast Charters, Oceanside, NY, member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and author; Chris Macaluso, Director, Center for Marine Fisheries, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; and panel moderator Dennis Nixon of Sea Grant RI.
I had the honor and opportunity to represent recreational anglers during a recent trip to Washington, DC to advocate for strong conservation measures in the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). I was armed with a report from the 2018 Southern New England Recreational Fishing Symposium and the support of the board of directors of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA), sponsors of the regional event.
On January 26, 2018, over sixty anglers and fishery managers from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, along with MSA national thought leaders, worked to develop recommendations on how to improve MSA for recreational fishing. In additional to new ideas, many speakers and participants recommended keeping the strong conservation aspects of present MSA law.
Top recommendations included adding to the resources spent on ecosystem-based management, climate change and fish movement. Additionally, recreational anglers wanted better data through enhanced Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) surveys, as well as funding for new and innovative recreational electronic recording of catch and effort programs that adhere to federal guidelines.
All of the recommendations can take place under the present MSA. We just need to fund research, study and data collection efforts that can deliver on recommendations.
Why focus on MSA at the Symposium?
Recreational saltwater fishing plays an important role in Southern New England’s ecology and economy, as well as throughout the United States.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recreational fishing in Rhode Island and Massachusetts has a sales impact that surpasses commercial fishing. Commercial fishers provide a nutritious food source for people who have no access to fish; however, both recreational and commercial fishing are important to our economy.
The ‘Fisheries Economics of the United States’ report published by the Department of Commerce and NOAA relates that recreational fishing in Rhode Island had sales of $332 million in 2015. The report says commercial fishing had sales of $290 million in Rhode Island and a total of $338 million once imported fish were added. Massachusetts’ situation is similar. Recreational sales were at $986-million and commercial sales at $861 million with sales of $1.13 million once imports are added.
But what most people do not realize is that, according to NOAA, although recreational fishing accounts for only 2% of the landings nationwide, it has a far reaching and sustainable impact on our society. Nationally, recreational fishing represents over $89.5 billion in sales and value added to the economy, and 439,242 jobs.
With this economic impact, it is vitally important that the nation and Southern New England manage this resource to abundance so that recreational fishing can continue to thrive in a highly sustainable way and continue to serve as a primary economic engine of growth.
Congressional delegations and members of the Senate Commerce Committee with whom I met last week appreciated hearing from Southern New England anglers and have pledged to use the Symposium report and our input when they address MSA legislation.
Top scoring directions from group work at the Symposium
Speakers and panelists (see speaker guide and agenda at Rissa.org ) first addressed participants and then had an open panel discussion with questions from other panelists, the facilitator, as well as participants attending the Symposium. Participants then broke into eight work groups of 6 to 8 people in each group and were asked for their input on what they might recommend to enhance the Magnuson-Stevens Act for recreational anglers.
Here were some top recommendations made by Symposium participants.
- Improving recreational stock assessment data as well as catch and effort harvest data were top scoring recommendations. Participants wanted the quality of existing data enhanced and wanted improved new data sources, including creating avenues to accommodate electronic reporting in the recreational sector. Some participants wanted to both enhance existing data sources with more funding and surveying as well as explore electronic recording of catch and effort.
The key in both cases was the development of federal – not state or regional – criteria and standards for reporting, because the aim of “better data” recommendations at the state level often has been to accommodate the collection and reporting of data in a timely manner to impact regulation in the hopes of more accurate assessments which would lead to liberalized recreational harvest limits.
- Protect forage fish and promote ecosystem-based management was another top recommendation. Participants felt that the forage fish complex should be defined and managed separately from non-forage species exempt from optimal yield. Many participants felt that forage fish and ecosystem-based management were linked and should be addressed at the same time.
- Ending the redistribution of quota from the recreational to commercial sector. Many felt that leaving unused quota in the recreational sector was a good conservation practice. Additionally, participants felt the regulation should put a value on “the fish left in the water” from catch & release. In regard to gear conflicts between trawl and rod & reel fishing, many felt buffer zones should be established, or we should explore restructuring commercial and recreational vessel traffic in-shore where feasible to reduce large vessels from operating close to the shore or in estuaries.
- Redistribution of fish quotas due to biomass movement and climate change. Participants felt a redistribution of fish harvest quotas based on current distribution, catch and value (both recreational and commercial) is necessary.
- Add council seats in neighboring regions to accommodate fish movement as well as recreational seats. Require recreational representation on all regional fishery management councils, with possibly a minimum of one private recreational angler representative with no commercial fishing interests and a second from the party and charter sector.
- Add transiting provision to MSA to accommodate a Block Island to Mainland corridor (12 votes). Other transient provisions occur in New England and throughout the county. Due to a mile or two state water gap between Block Island and mainland Rhode Island, a transit provision should be added to MSA.
Overall recreational anglers want to keep the conservation components of MSA to ensure its continued success of rebuilding fish stocks (44 species have been rebuilt under MSA). Mandatory rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits (ACLs) were important conservation measures cited.
US Senators, Representatives and members of the Commerce Committee I met with in Washington, DC all appreciated and supported the recreational angler input on MSA recommendations. Now we need other voices to join in to ensure that Congress moves forward to keep an effective MSA with strong conservation measures.