Saltwater Anglers have waited 42 years to be recognized in federal law
© Getty Images

As Congress returns from the campaign trail, there is a major effort underway to pass comprehensive legislation before the 115th Congress adjourns that addresses the most pressing needs on America’s public lands and waterways. While any legislative vehicle is likely to include a variety of measures important to America’s millions of sportsmen and women, it is critical that this package fix a problem decades in the making: outdated management of America’s federal fisheries.

Each year, 11 million Americans travel to our nation’s coasts to take part in one of America’s favorite pastimes – recreational fishing. These saltwater anglers annually support 440,000 American jobs, including thousands of manufacturing and supply jobs in non-coastal states, and pump $63.4 billion into the U.S. economy. Yet, angling in federal waters has been managed by an antiquated federal system that never considered the needs of the recreational fishing sector and never anticipated its growth.

ADVERTISEMENT

Because federal law has never considered the fundamental differences between recreational and commercial fishing practices, federal fisheries management problems facing anglers have been snowballing for decades. Those problems are impediments to participation in sportfishing. How can we engage the next generation of anglers when the federal rules unnecessarily stand in the way?

Five years ago, along with Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris, I co-chaired the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, which was made up of recreational fishing stakeholders, marine fisheries experts, environmentalists, and federal and state fisheries managers to develop a vision for saltwater recreational fishing. In 2014, we presented federal policymakers a report on ways to improve recreational fisheries management. But still, anglers are being forced into a commercial fisheries management model like a square peg in a round hole.

Tired of the status quo and inaction at the federal level, America’s recreational anglers again called for change at the start of this Congress and threw their support behind the Modern Fish Act (Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017), which offers commonsense solutions and management tools that would bring federal fisheries management into the 21st century and fit the nature of recreational fishing. If passed, the effects of this landmark legislation will be monumental: better overall management of America’s fisheries through the availability of new data collection methods; additional management tools designed for recreational fishing; improved access for America’s anglers, and in turn, enhanced conservation funding.

The sportfishing community’s national reach is shown through broad, bipartisan support for the Modern Fish Act. In the Senate, nearly 20 senators—an even mix of Democrats and Republicans—have signed up as co-sponsors. In the House of Representatives, the Modern Fish Act consistently received bipartisan support and was ultimately included in a larger bill that passed on the House floor this summer with support from both Democrats and Republicans. This legislative momentum was a direct result of hundreds of thousands of Americans writing, calling and speaking with their representatives and senators over the past two years urging passage of this important legislation.

Support for the Modern Fish Act is clear, and after two years of progress, it is time for this Congress to push the bill across the finish line. As Congress works to wrap up its legislative business before the holidays, I hope it will give anglers well-deserved acknowledgment by passing the Modern Fish Act to improve the way America’s fisheries are managed in federal waters.

Scott Deal is a leader in marine conservation and president of Maverick Boat Group based in Fort Pierce, Fla.