Roosevelt wouldn’t stand for privatizing a public resource, and neither will we

Roosevelt wouldn’t stand for privatizing a public resource, and neither will we
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There has been recent criticism of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s support of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, even suggesting that we have somehow done an injustice to the legacy of our organization’s namesake.

In a recent opinion piece for The Hill, angler Mark Eustis praised the TRCP in general, but decried the organization for our positions on federal management of saltwater recreational fishing and painted us as a latecomer to ongoing conversations around the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal law governing marine fisheries. 

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The TRCP and our partners have worked extensively with the best and most accomplished fisheries experts for the last five years to develop the recommendations at the heart of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act. We are proud of our work and believe it will advance conservation success because it is based on positive examples of fisheries management that could improve upon Magnuson. 

 

Eustis, in fact, mistakenly links one of these examples — the recovery of striped bass — to the success of the Magnuson Act, when truly this species bounced back through collaborative alternative management efforts. 

In 1984, Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act to allow joint state and federal management of striped bass, overseen by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission — not the federal regional council, as the Magnuson Act requires for most saltwater fish. A fisheries management plan was devised for stripers that allowed for separate approaches to managing the commercial and recreational fisheries while improving data collection by relying on state fisheries agencies to conduct annual stock assessments.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, striped bass had recovered from near collapse thanks to this alternative approach. The legislation before Congress would allow federal fisheries managers to consider the striped bass management model, as well as several others identified by the TRCP and our partners after working for more than a year with state and federal fisheries experts. 

One fact should not be ignored: Recreational fishing is dependent upon strong conservation. It is also inefficient. We use rods and reels, single hooks and lures in contrast to the very efficient nets, trawls, and long-line sets used by commercial harvesters. Anglers need a lot of fish in the sea to be successful. And we want a lot of anglers to chase those fish because recreational anglers pay for conservation and state-based management through dedicated excise taxes and license sales.

We deserve a management system that works for us, not a system designed for commercial fishing into which recreational anglers are shoehorned.

Gulf red snapper is the poster child for why federal managers need to look at new management approaches. Despite very strong stocks of red snapper, the National Marine Fisheries Service initially limited recreational anglers to a three-day season in federal waters in 2017 (later expanded by Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions Forbes: Wilbur Ross overstated wealth by billion Bernie Sanders warns of 'international oligarchy' after 'Paradise Papers' leak MORE following an outcry from anglers and the Gulf states.) Moving to alternative management approaches actually requires more conservative management and more robust data collection, which recreational anglers are very willing to accept and pay for in exchange for longer and more predictable seasons.

Another point to consider is that almost all recreational stocks are in very good shape. In addition to striped bass, important recreational stocks like snook, speckled trout, redfish, Alaskan salmon and bluefish are all thriving, as are freshwater species such as largemouth bass. 

The common denominator? All those stocks are primarily managed by the states using “alternative” management regimes. Eustis’s notion that “populations of most ‘sporting’ species remain threatened” just doesn’t hold up, along with the notion that the 11 million saltwater recreational anglers are impossible to manage.

As the debate around the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act heats up there is another issue that needs to be called out: Some would prefer to limit access to certain recreational stocks to those who hire guides or charters, a first step toward privatizing the fishery for the benefit of just a few. Theodore Roosevelt understood that fish and wildlife belong to everyone and that every person benefits from getting outdoors and enjoying America’s remarkable natural bounty. But this requires good management and solid science — that is the goal of the Modern Fish Act.

America has great fisheries but they can be made even better, and more people can benefit from them, if we do a better job of fisheries management in our federal waters. Overfishing is at an all-time low, yet in many fisheries, anglers aren’t reaping the benefits because Magnuson hasn’t been adapted to allow for management approaches that acknowledge the value of recreational fishing. Adapting and updating the Magnuson Act requires very careful planning, which we have done over several years of information-gathering and deliberation with partners in the sportfishing and environmental communities. 

Our community’s recommendations are a very careful attempt to strike the right balance of improving management so that anglers have reasonable access, without harming conservation. An issue as complicated and nuanced as this one can’t be boiled down to “fishing groups are against conservation.”

Anglers and other sportsmen pioneered conservation of our nation’s fish and game. Hunters and fishermen, like Roosevelt, have fought to keep our public access open, enact tighter size and creel limits, keep our water clean and prevent commercial interests from decimating our public fisheries. We are continuing to lead that fight by working with conservationists and lawmakers to give our state and federal fisheries managers the best possible tools to support our natural resources, so they can be enjoyed by all Americans today and long into the future.

Whit Fosburgh is the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.