Talking Fish Policy in Miami

For warm weather and great fishing, it’s tough to beat a visit to South Florida. Especially in the middle of February, when temperatures here in Washington D.C. were cold enough to freeze the Potomac River (and before you ask, ice fishing here isn’t really an option unless you’re trying to turn it into a Polar Bear Plunge). Especially when you also get to see the latest and greatest in all things to do with recreational boating and fishing on display at the Progressive Miami International Boat Show, this year held February 13-17.

Walking the halls of the Miami Beach Convention Center, as well as exploring the two marinas also associated with the show, really drives home how huge of an economic powerhouse recreational boating and fishing are in this country. According to NMMA, over 100,000 people visited the Miami Boat Show last year, resulting in $63.6 million in expenditures. For a few days in the middle of winter, Miami becomes the epicenter of recreational boating and fishing in this country as people come from all over to explore and potentially buy everything boating-related: from powerboats, sailboats and engines; to cutting-edge marine electronics and accessories; to nautical gifts, services and apparel.

This year, fisheries policy was also a central focus. While this side of recreational fishing and boating may not get folks as revved up as the latest offshore center console boat or touchscreen fish finder, it greatly affects your ability to access and enjoy the nation’s aquatic resources.

For far too long, recreational fishing in our nation’s federal waters (generally 3-200 miles offshore) has been an afterthought among policymakers and fisheries managers, who have been primarily focused on commercial fishing.

In a way, this makes sense, as 98 percent of all fish harvest is attributable to commercial fishing, with the remaining two percent caught by anglers. However when you consider that the two sectors create roughly the same number of jobs, despite the significantly lower resource impact by recreational fishermen, it makes a compelling case for devoting greater attention to recreational fisheries management.

Recognizing this longstanding problem, and that there is an opportunity to address it in the upcoming reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary law governing saltwater fisheries management, two industry leaders stepped up to develop solutions and present a vision for managing America’s saltwater recreational fisheries. The report by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, chaired by Johnny Morris, Founder of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, President of Maverick Boats, was unveiled in front of a packed audience moments before the doors opened at the Miami Boat Show.

The Morris-Deal Commission’s report is the product of an extensive process over the past year involving a wide range of experts and other stakeholders. Through the course of its discussions and deliberations, the commission established a vision for saltwater recreational fishing and identified steps to set the foundation for a management system that addresses the needs of anglers and industry and produces the full range of economic, social and conservation benefits provided by saltwater recreational fishing.

The Morris-Deal Commission’s report identifies six key recommendations:

• Establishing a national policy for recreational fishing

• Adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management

• Allocating marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation

• Creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines

• Codifying a process for cooperative management

• Managing for the forage base

The release of this report is timely, as both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are exploring reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. However, most D.C. insiders expect this process to drag out over the course of next year and possibly beyond.

Past reauthorizations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act have focused on ending overfishing, rebuilding depleted fish stocks and setting in place a management system that effectively regulates commercial fishing. In large part, it has been successful in meeting those goals. Now is the time to amend the law in a way that sets in place a management system that meets the needs of the nation’s 11 million saltwater anglers.

While all of this may sound a little policy-wonky, the goal is simple: ensuring you have plenty of opportunities in the future to spend time on the water, in pursuit of fish and making memories with family and friends. After all, we need to make sure all those cool products at the Miami Boat Show are put to good use!

Mike Leonard
Mike Leonard is the Ocean Resource Policy Director at the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), based in Alexandria, Virginia. ASA is the sportfishing industry's trade association, providing the industry with a unified voice when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect sportfishing ...