Constructive solutions the key to improved fisheries management and more certainty for recreational fishermen
Duck hunters in Louisiana have known for a month their season will begin in early November and last for 60 days. For the last 20 years, duck seasons in the Bayou State have consistently started either the first or second weekend in November, ended in late January, with a bag limit of six ducks.
Coastal anglers across Gulf States and beyond who pursue popular sportfish like speckled trout and redfish have year-round seasons and can take advantage of good weather and time off from work to catch a few fish and even take a couple home for dinner – all while maintaining healthy, sustainable stocks.
Consistency and certainty is vital to duck hunters, anglers, and the businesses that support those activities. However, achieving that level of certainty enjoyed in waterfowling, other hunting, and in state-based fisheries management has proven to be very difficult to maintain at the federal level where conservation measures required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act have forced managers to shorten fishing seasons for many popular reef fish such as red snapper and grouper. This problem has been compounded by imprecise data collection methods even despite recovering populations and stock sizes at record levels for many of these species.
In many cases, management approaches for these popular fish were established to allow a maximum amount of commercial harvest while maintaining barely sustainable stocks. Recreational fishing has been forced into the same management structure despite obvious differences in culture and approach to the resource by commercial and recreational fishermen.
The 2014 report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” released by the TRCP and the foremost angling advocacy and conservation organizations in America made six recommendations to improve federal fisheries management for recreational fishing, including “adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management.”
These groups will take that recommendation a step further over the next two months by convening workshops comprised of experts in fisheries management, biology, and policy at the state and federal level as well as recreational fishing advocacy groups and conservation organizations. They will all discuss what works well in fish and game management, where the deficiencies are in achieving certainty in federal management, and how better data collection efforts and alternative approaches to current federal management can be incorporated into laws and policies that govern recreational fishing.
This is not an effort to simply launch attacks on current federal approaches and those responsible for their implementation. It is a cooperative effort by the TRCP, the American Sportfishing Association and other concerned sportfishing and conservation groups to try to constructively address management shortcomings that even NOAA Fisheries officials recognize as well.
The first workshop was held May 17-18 in Tampa, Fla. and facilitated by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Fisheries Management Director Jessica McCawley and Deputy Director Jim Estes. Representatives from NOAA Fisheries gave overviews of current federal management policies and data collection efforts. This was closely examined and compared with state inland and coastal fisheries management approaches and to the cooperative effort by state and federal waterfowl biologists to balance conservation and access to duck and goose hunting. The workshop will also feature efforts by states like Louisiana and Florida to collect more accurate data on angler harvest in federal and state waters.
The second workshop will be in Washington, DC in June and will tackle how the management approaches discussed in the first meeting can be used to improve federal management through policy recommendations and legislative changes. Policy experts from the recreational fishing and conservation community will participate in the discussion alongside congressional staff who are working to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act and advance other fisheries management legislation.
The goal at the end of this process is to have a concise set of recommendations that can help Congress, state and federal fisheries managers, and anglers work together toward common goals of achieving long-term fisheries conservation and sustainability. By doing so in a constructive and collaborative way, we can allow the economy and the culture of recreational fishing to thrive as fish stocks across our coasts continue to grow larger and healthier.