Updated September 2017
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary law governing marine fisheries management in the United States, was last reauthorized in 2007. Since its original passage in 1976, the MSA has made notable progress in ending overfishing, rebuilding depleted fish stocks, protecting essential fish habitat and a variety of other improvements to the nation’s marine resources. However, despite its significant economic, social and conservation values, recreational fishing’s importance is still not sufficiently reflected in the MSA or the resultant federal marine fisheries management process, which remain primarily focused on commercial fishing.
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and its conservation partners have been actively working with Congress for several years to promote MSA reauthorization in a way that addresses the recreational fishing community’s priorities. While a comprehensive MSA reauthorization bill is being advanced, ASA and its partners strongly support H.R. 2023 and S. 1520, the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017,” which reflects the interests of the recreational fishing and boating community and its priorities for amending the MSA.
ASA strongly supports reauthorization of the MSA and advocates for refinements to the law that reflect the recommendations of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management (see Issue Background). In particular, ASA supports the Modern Fish Act, which is a comprehensive set of changes to MSA to address the priorities of the recreational fishing community, such as:
Because of its significance to MSA reauthorization and other major marine fisheries policy, ASA played a significant role in the work of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, or Morris-Deal Commission, co-chaired by Bass Pro Shops Founder and CEO Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats President Scott Deal.
The commission, formed in 2013, was also composed of respected biologists, economists, conservationists, fisheries managers and policy makers. The commission developed specific management recommendations for keeping saltwater recreational fishing sustainable and healthy, producing a landmark report, A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries, released in February 2014. The report describes the nation’s most important saltwater fisheries management issues and is intended to help guide federal policy decisions, particularly as Congress debates MSA reauthorization.
Throughout 2013 and early 2014, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate held oversight hearings on the MSA to gather perspectives on what is, and what is not, working with the law. After a brief comment period on a discussion draft, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) introduced in May 2014 an MSA reauthorization bill, which passed out of committee. ASA and its partners expressed concern that the bill did not address key issues identified by the Morris-Deal Commission.
In the Senate, Chairman Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and ranking member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, developed an MSA reauthorization bill that represented consensus priorities of fisheries stakeholders. However, the 113th session of Congress ended without MSA reauthorization.
In the 114th Congress, legislation to amend and reauthorize the MSA was introduced in both the House and the Senate. In June 2015, the House passed a comprehensive MSA reauthorization bill, H.R. 1335. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), included several provisions supported by a coalition of organizations representing the saltwater recreational fishing and boating community. These were provisions to promote transparency and science-based review of fishery allocations, provide important exceptions for annual catch limits and improve the accuracy of fish stock information through greater involvement by the states. During consideration on the House floor, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) added an amendment that gives NOAA Fisheries the authority to implement management practices better tailored to the nature of recreational fishing.
In May 2015, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the Florida Fisheries Improvement Act, S. 1403, a bill to amend the MSA with a primary focus on improving fisheries management and data collection in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions. Specifically, it included measures to provide modest but necessary flexibility in fisheries rebuilding, authorize consideration of alternative management measures for recreational fisheries and require regional management councils to review allocation processes. Ultimately, the 114th Congress came to an end without a MSA reauthorization bill being signed into law.
In the 115th Congress, Rep. Young reintroduced his MSA reauthorization bill, H.R. 200.
In April 2017, Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) introduced a House bill, (H.R. 2023) called the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017” (Modern Fish Act) that would improve public access to America’s federal waters, promote conservation of our marine natural resources and spur economic growth. ASA supports this legislation and joined other recreational fishing and boating groups soon after the bill’s introduction to thank the Congressmen for championing this legislation on behalf of America’s 11 million saltwater anglers. Companion legislation, S. 1520, was introduced in the U.S. Senate on July 10, 2017, by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
The Modern Fish Act addresses many of the recreational fishing community’s priorities, including allowing alternative management for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations, smartly rebuilding fishery stocks, establishing exemptions where annual catch limits don’t fit and improving recreational data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches and science and technology to guide decision-making.