Reflections on the 115th Congress and the Future of Fisheries

Recreational anglers at sunset

Holiday decorations are up, people are wishing each other “Season’s Greetings” and lawmakers have been busy pushing through legislation in the last few days of the 115th Congress.

It’s been an interesting year for fisheries. Both the House and Senate introduced bills that would roll back years of progress in fisheries management. H.R. 200, the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” would have significantly weakened science-based catch limits and accountability measures that have successfully reduced overfishing since the last reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. While H.R. 200 did pass the House in July, so far Senators thankfully have recognized that this detrimental bill should go no further.

As introduced, S. 1520, the “Modernizing Recreational Fishing Management Act of 2017” or “Modern Fish Act,” would have extended rebuilding timelines for depleted fish stocks among many other detrimental provisions. Senators worked over the last several months to remove most of the harmful provisions in the bill and made the legislation far less objectionable than from where it started. S. 1520 passed in the Senate by unanimous consent on December 17 and in the House under suspension of the rules on December 19.

What’s been discouraging this year is that the debate around fisheries legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives has continued to be divided along partisan lines, which is much different from the bipartisan spirit of previous Magnuson-Stevens reauthorizations. Instead of coming together across the aisle to initiate a comprehensive reauthorization of our primary federal fisheries law, lawmakers introduced special interest bills catering to a few, select constituents that would modify the Magnuson-Stevens Act in a piecemeal fashion. This partisan trend does not serve our fisheries or anyone who relies on them very well.

Vigorous debate over the management of U.S. fisheries is understandable. The commercial fishing industry is among the oldest in the U.S., and over the years recreational fishing has grown into its own robust industry in many places around the country. Both commercial and recreation fishing – and the other industries touched by them, such as restaurants, boat manufacturers, bait and tackle, and seafood processors – contribute $86.7 billion of value added to the U.S. economy. For industries important to coastal communities around the nation – and to seafood lovers throughout all states – how to balance supply and demand while keeping fisheries healthy and abundant always sparks differing views on the best policies to manage them.

Our fisheries are a public resource owned and enjoyed equally by all Americans and should be managed so everyone can continue to use them for years to come. Only by taking a holistic view of fisheries management and thoughtfully crafting legislation that considers the needs of everyone who relies on healthy oceans and productive fisheries can we move fisheries management in the right direction to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Lawmakers must do a better job in the 116th Congress with the bills they introduce. As the new Congress – with new leadership – begins in 2019, lawmakers have an opportunity to examine the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s success and to build upon its strong foundation to make improvements that better secure U.S. fisheries now and for future generations.

The Network encourages Congress to bring back the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s bipartisan spirit and pass comprehensive, science-based fisheries management legislation that serves all Americans. As a new year brings new beginnings, we look to the leadership of the 116th Congress to renew our hope for a better future for coastal communities and working waterfronts around the nation.

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