Farm bill must protect working lands conservation programs
Bipartisan solution is hooked on facts, not fiction
The spirit of bipartisanship is alive and well on Capitol Hill - at least when it comes to federal marine fisheries management. The House leadership of the bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, which includes Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Austin Scott (R-Ga.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas), have come together in the interest of what is best for the American public in supporting Rep. Don Young's (R-Alaska) H.R. 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. For the first time since the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) was passed in 1976, we are on the verge of truly recognizing the significance of recreational fishing in the nation's principal fisheries law that will benefit 11-million saltwater anglers.
Among other things, H.R. 200 provides federal fisheries managers with the tools to effectively manage recreational fisheries, provides for better science to guide fisheries management decisions and further ensures our marine resources are managed for abundance, long-term sustainability and to the greatest benefit to the nation. H.R. 200 has been amended several times based on bipartisan feedback, as any good legislation should be, yet we still find ourselves up against the "never let the facts get in the way of a good story" scenario.
Specifically, I'm speaking to the fiction of the misinformed rhetoric that passing these bills will roll back the conservation gains made thus far under the current MSA, or somehow lead to less seafood on the menu at popular restaurants. Several chefs have repeated this mistruth in newspapers around the country in an unfounded fear that they will somehow lose their seafood supply. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, H.R. 200 would help ensure chefs in coastal communities throughout the country continue to have a strong customer base of recreational fishermen who travel to the coast, eat at restaurants, rent hotel rooms and buy supplies, all for the opportunity to catch a few fish.
Furthermore, as the original fisheries conservationists, anglers have always demanded that our fisheries be managed sustainably and under some form of a harvest limit, and nothing changes with Young's bill. Every successfully managed fishery in this country is managed using a limit on the amount of fish that can be harvested. Determining that limit, and more importantly having the ability to measure it with reliable data, is the real catch. Hard-pound quotas work if you can count every fish that hits the dock in real time, but if you cannot - as is the case with many recreational fisheries along our coasts - there are other methods for effectively constraining angler harvest. Giving the regional fishery management councils the ability to set, and measure, catch limits using metrics other than hard pound quotas is a proven, common-sense solution that, unfortunately, is being misconstrued as an attempt to roll back catch limits and kill every last fish. As a recreational angler myself, I would not support any management approach that ensured there would be no fish to catch.
I've worked in and around the halls of Congress for nearly four decades. I've seen good legislation crafted and passed and equally good legislation fall victim to partisan politics. We cannot afford to let partisan politics and those who want to simply maintain the status quo continue to dominate fisheries management to the detriment of the ever growing and changing angling public. The recent changes to H.R. 200 embody the spirit of working in a bipartisan fashion to find common ground that results in good legislation and long-term solutions.
The leaders of the bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus should be commended. It's high-time the rest of Congress followed suit and supported a bill that will ensure we continue to have healthy, abundant fisheries resources, a robust commercial fishing industry and appropriate access to good fishing through effective management for the nation's saltwater anglers.
Jeff Crane is president of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation. He joined CSF in 2002 and brings over 20 years of experience in on-the-ground natural resource management and policy expertise at the federal, state and international levels.