The American Sportfishing Association (ASA), along with other fisheries conservation groups, has actively worked for the past several years to pass legislation that would serve to better conserve, restore, and enhance fish habitats across the country. The foundation for the legislation is the National Fish Habitat Partnership (Partnership) which provides a national framework for maintaining and restoring fish habitat.
While there are numerous efforts underway to address declining fishery health on local scales, there is a need for conservation action on a range-wide scale for these efforts to be successful. The goal of federal legislation is to codify the existing program and foster partnerships among conservation groups to achieve coordination of on-the-ground efforts for aquatic systems across the country. Combining the collective energy of state and federal agencies with local partners offers the best chance of success.
In the Senate, the Sportsmen’s Act, a previous legislative vehicle for attempting to move forward Partnership authorization language, has essentially been split into two separate bills, based on committees’ jurisdictions and one of those bills included language relating to the Partnership. S. 1514, the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation Act (or HELP for Wildlife Act), which passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, contains a provision authorizing the National Fish Habitat Partnerships program which will conserve, restore and enhance fish habitat throughout the nation, providing better fishing opportunities.
ASA, along with five other conservation organizations, continue to meet with Congressional staff, seeking sponsorship, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as necessary about legislation in 2017.
ASA fully supports fish habitat legislation and the Partnership. This National Fish Habitat Partnership is a nationally supported, bipartisan effort to protect, restore, and enhance the nation’s fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and thereby enhance our economy and improve the quality of life for our citizens.
Healthy waterways and robust fish populations are vital to the well-being of our society. They provide clean water and sustainable fisheries. Unfortunately, in many waters around the country, fish and the habitats on which they depend are in decline. This is of huge concern to the 46 million anglers who pursue fish recreationally and countless others who depend on them for subsistence and commerce.
The economic contribution of recreational fisheries alone surpassed $115 billion in 2011. The value of fish habitat—freshwater and marine—goes well beyond angling for and harvesting fish. A tremendous amount of work has been undertaken to protect, restore and enhance aquatic habitats because of their economic and ecological importance.
Since 1970, regulatory programs have reduced pollution and slowed the physical degradation of aquatic habitats. Thousands of river rehabilitations, reservoir enhancements, salt-marsh protection efforts and other conservation projects have been conducted across the country. Although significant gains have been made, they have not kept pace with impacts resulting from population growth and land-use changes. Finally, given the diverse array of federal, state, tribal, local and private jurisdictions, the need has never been greater for increased action and improved coordination of fisheries conservation actions across boundaries and jurisdictions.
Development of the Partnership began in 2001, then the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, when an ad hoc group of fisheries interests, led by the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council and including ASA, explored the concept of developing a partnership for fish habitat similar to that undertaken for waterfowl and their habitat in the 1980s through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
By 2004, after a series of meetings around the country, fisheries professionals and stakeholders were discussing a partnership-driven, non-regulatory, science-based, landscape-scale fish habitat conservation effort. Hundreds of individuals from the fisheries management community, conservation organizations and angling groups attended regional meetings and unanimously supported this action.
The NFHCA represents a national investment strategy that will extend the impact of our nation’s conservation dollars. The NFHCA will leverage federal and privately raised funds to build regional partnerships aimed at fixing the nation’s biggest fisheries problems. This is the most comprehensive effort ever attempted to treat the causes of fish habitat decline.
ASA, along with five other conservation organizations, began meetings with Congressional staff shortly thereafter, seeking sponsorship for the NFHCA legislation. ASA spearheaded the legislative drafting and took a lead in the strategy to have the legislation introduced and passed. In the past ten years, the coalition has made great strides in gaining Congressional support and attention to the bill.
The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act (NFHCA) was originally introduced during the 110th Congress and has been reintroduced each session following.
During the 111th Congress, on December 3, 2009, ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson testified before the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife in support of the NFHCA. The legislation was one of several bills that ASA worked hard to get passed before the 111th Congress concluded. Despite having the bill ready for a floor vote as both a stand-alone bill and in a package with others bills, time ran out.
During the 112th Congress the NFHCA was included in the Sportsmen's Package, which unfortunately failed to pass because of partisan politics at the end of the Congress.
In March 2012, the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote interagency collaboration on the implementation of the NFHP. The agreement streamlined agency efforts and ensured that federal resources were employed in the most effective and efficient manner possible.
The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, S. 2080, was again introduced in the 113th Congress in March, 2014, by Sens. Cardin (D-Md.) and Crapo (R-ID). It was passed out of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee with no amendments on April 3. The bill did not go any further in the 113th Congress.
On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Senate passed a fish habitat bill – National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act – as part of a package of sportsmen’s bills contained in a comprehensive energy bill. By a vote of 85-12, the Senate approved amendment #3234 of the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012), which authorizes the National Fish Habitat Partnership program and requires certain public lands to be open for recreational fishing and hunting unless specifically closed through an open and public process. The House of Representatives had not passed related legislation. The Energy Bill was halted in conference at the end of 2016, after the historic 2016 elections that ended in a Trump Administration and a Republican majority in both chambers of congress.