The problem with federal fisheries management in coastal waters is that nearly everything is based on commercial fishing. How much of a particular species can be caught, when they can be caught and who can catch them leans heavily toward commercial fishermen. Recreational saltwater anglers get left holding the chum bag.
Mike Nussman, the president of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), explained the problem during a news conference last week at the Miami International Boat Show using gumballs. In one hand, he held a glass pitcher filled with gumballs, which represented the total amount of saltwater fish caught by commercial fishermen. In the other hand, he held a pitcher with two gumballs. That represented the total number of saltwater fish caught by recreational anglers.
Then he poured gumballs from the first pitcher into the second pitcher to represent the economic value of those catches. The second, recreational pitcher had more gumballs than the first, which illustrated just how much more valuable recreational fishing is to the U.S. economy than commercial fishing.
Nussman is one of many who believes it is time that federal fishery managers take into account the value of recreational fishing when managing saltwater fisheries. “Why does the National Marine Fisheries Service pay so little attention to recreational fishing?” Nussman asked during the news conference on the findings of the Commission for Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management.
As the commission’s report, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” noted, the nation’s 11 million recreational saltwater anglers spent $27 billion in 2011 on fishing tackle, equipment and trip-related goods such as bait, ice, gas, meals and lodging. That generated more than $70 billion in economic output and supported 455,000 jobs. Commercial fishing supported 381,000 jobs. But there were 210 jobs for every 100,000 pounds of fish landed by recreational anglers, compared with only 4.5 jobs in the commercial fishing industry for that amount of fish.
Those are impressive numbers, but they are ignored by federal fishery managers and congressmen, who tend to think only of the bottom lines of commercial fishermen. The goal of the commission, which was chaired by Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops and Scott Deal of Maverick Boats, and organizations such as the ASA, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, is to have those numbers count when managing saltwater fisheries.
Specifically, “The commission envisions a marine fisheries management system that conserves fishery resources, provides consistency in regulations, and produces the full range of saltwater recreational fishing’s economic, social and conservation benefits for the nation.” To achieve that, the commission came up with six key elements that should be included when the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act is reauthorized by Congress:
- Establishing a national policy for recreational fishing, much like individual states, such as Florida, which has effective size limits, bag limits and, in some cases, seasons to protect gamefish. Magnuson-Stevens currently only focuses on catch-and-release practices for recreational anglers.
- Adopting a revised approach to recreational saltwater fisheries management that promotes conservation and access. Instead of managing recreational fisheries for maximum sustainable yield like commercial fisheries, manage them by harvest rate instead, which is how recreational fishing for striped bass is managed.
- Allocation of marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation. Species targeted by both commercial and recreational anglers, such as red snapper, need to be managed based on accurate data, conservation and socioeconomic value.
- Creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines. Magnuson-Stevens says the time to rebuild stocks should be no more than 10 years, which for some species, is not realistic. Flexibility is needed, such as low harvest rates so stocks can grow and anglers still can fish.
- Establishing a process for cooperative management, which means the feds should work closely with states to best manage specific fisheries.
- Managing for the forage base. The feds seldom manage the bottom of the food chain, which is essential for healthy fisheries.
“Magnuson-Stevens hasn’t changed since 1976,” when it was enacted, said Jeff Angers, the president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Every amendment and reauthorization has focused on commercial fishing.”
Now it’s up to conservation and fishing organizations and individuals to get the message out to Congress that the value of recreational fishing must be considered when reauthorizing Magnuson-Stevens.
“It’s a time for all of us to unite,” Morris said, “and speak to our policy makers.”