Column: Support recreational fishing
As a fishing tackle business owner and recreational fisherman, I offer my sincere thanks to Sen. Gary Peters for his support of the Modern Fish Act (S. 1520), which was approved by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last month. This particular piece of legislation is vital to the continued health of recreational fishing, not only in Michigan, where it directly supports 37,989 jobs, but across the entirety of the United States. Support for the growth of recreational fishing is support for an American industry. Nationally, that’s 11 million saltwater anglers, contributing $63 billion annually to the economy, and supporting 440,000 jobs.
While the bill’s passage through committee marks a significant step in the path to enhance saltwater recreational fishing, there is still more work to be done. For too long, the federal fisheries management system has limited access for America’s recreational fishermen, using flawed data and misguided regulations.
Currently, recreational anglers are unfairly lumped in with the industrial fishing companies who operate massive fishing vessels and catch fish by the thousands. Common sense would tell you these two groups have significantly different outlooks, goals and impacts on the nation’s fisheries. Yet for more than 40 years, since the passing of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976, commercial and recreational fishing are treated as a singular, monolithic group operating under the same umbrella.
Commercial fishermen, using large-scale and highly-efficient gear, want to maximize the amount of fish they can harvest each year, while leaving enough in the water to sustain the fish population over time. Recreational fishermen, using a single hook in the vast ocean, simply want to enjoy time on the water and have the opportunity to catch some fish. These motivations are entirely different and, therefore, require different management approaches.
Current legislation is unable to properly balance access to our nation’s waterways and conservation of fish stocks and support the economic impact of an industry made up of millions of enthusiasts spending time with friends and family on the water. Simply put, a fisherman enjoying a beautiful spring day should not be held to the same standards as the commercial fishermen hauling in thousands of pounds of fish daily.
I have seen firsthand the effect these restrictive regulations have had on an industry that drives important sectors of the U.S. economy. Overly restrictive and wildly inconsistent regulations in recent years for recreationally important saltwater fisheries like red snapper, cobia and amberjack has put a strain on coastal communities and recreational fishing dependent businesses across the country. Instituting common-sense provisions like those found within the Modern Fish Act would go a long way toward witnessing the full-potential of the recreational fishing industry.
Those who oppose the bill argue it is an attack on this nation’s fisheries and a threat to its marine resources. They argue it is an attempt to roll-back conservation-minded regulations that have been in place for decades. These notions couldn’t be further from the truth. Without healthy waters and robust fisheries, there is no recreational fishing to be had. Recreational anglers are some of our nation’s first and best conservationists. This is a cause in which environmental and business interests are closely aligned.
It’s time to stop relying on outdated regulations that are holding back an industry. With the Modern Fish Act having recently passed out of committees in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, it’s more important than ever to urge our legislators to support this critical piece of legislation. Our local livelihood and the nation’s fisheries depend on it.
Michael Powell is general manager of Ed Cumings Inc., Mason Tackle Co., and the Fishing Tackle Grab Bag.