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U.S. Senate Approves Modern Fish Act

On December 17, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved S. 1520, the Modern Fish Act. The bill, introduced by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), helps to advance innovations in federal marine fisheries management and data collection to the benefit of anglers, industry and fisheries conservation.

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) strongly supports the Modern Fish Act and has worked with coalition partners throughout the legislative process to help arrive at this point. The bill now goes over to the House of Representatives, where ASA hopes it will be approved later this week.

While some key provisions proved to be too difficult to enact at this time, such as requiring periodic examinations in the southeastern U.S. of how fisheries are allocated between the commercial and recreational sectors, the bill still addresses many of ASA’s top priorities for improving federal marine fisheries management in some form, including:

  • Clarifying the authority of NOAA Fisheries to apply management approaches more appropriate for recreational fishing;
  • Improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring federal managers to explore additional data sources that have tremendous potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic reporting (e.g., through smartphone apps);
  • Requiring a study on how mixed-use fishery allocations can and should be periodically reviewed by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils; and
  • Requiring a study on limited access privilege programs (catch shares) including an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the program.

ASA’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Mike Leonard, noted, “To my knowledge, never before has Congress passed a bill focused entirely on the saltwater recreational fishing community. Passage of the Modern Fish Act proves that the voice of the recreational fishing community is finally being heard on Capitol Hill. The Modern Fish Act is not the end point, but rather a major step toward evolving federal marine fisheries management in a way that recognizes the importance of saltwater recreational fishing to the nation.”

Bill to Address Salmon Predation Heads to President’s Desk

An important bill that will help to address unchecked predation of Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead by sea lions recently passed both the U.S. House and Senate and now awaits the President’s signature. The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Act, S. 3119, amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act to provide Northwest states and Columbia River treaty tribes streamlined authorities to effectively address excessive sea lion predation where we know the problem is most acute, including a large stretch of the river below Bonneville Dam, in the Willamette River, and in other tributaries. Previous efforts to pass similar legislation have stalled in the U.S. Senate, but this year Senators from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho came together with Senators Cantwell and Risch to approve these important reforms. The American Sportfishing Associations applauds the hard work of the region’s Congressional delegation and recreational fishing organizations to advance the bill through Congress, and looks forward to the enactment of this important measure.

Florida Updates

In Florida, things are taking shape for the 2019 Gulf red snapper season and beyond.  At its December meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a draft rule for a 32-day summer season with the option to reopen in the fall if quota remains under a pilot program for state management of this fishery. The Gulf Council is considering making state management permanent through Amendment 50 and is currently holding public hearings and accepting comments on the proposed action. In light of the successful pilot program across the Gulf, anglers and industry need to voice their support for state management.

Water quality throughout the state has improved as a result of the cooler weather and lower rainfall amounts. Red tide has dissipated on the southeast coast and has begun to retreat on the southwest coast. Discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries have ceased as Lake levels have fallen below 13’. With Governor DeSantis moving forward with his transition, water quality is at the top of his environmental agenda. The Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture has met twice to discuss priorities on Everglades restoration, habitat, corals, and fisheries issues and will meet a final time to discuss agriculture issues on December 28th. Water quality will be a major topic of discussion during this year’s Legislative Session.

The Panhandle continues recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Michael. Devastation was centered around the Mexico Beach area where the eyewall came ashore, but Panama City was also significantly impacted. A fisheries disaster was declared by Governor Scott, but relief plans are dependent upon Congressional funding, which has yet to be appropriated. Keep Florida Fishing is working with Visit Panama City Beach on a video to promote fishing opportunities in the area that will be released prior to the spring “high” season.