Fish management

Recreational saltwater anglers present vision

Leaders in the United States’ recreational saltwater fishing community presented at last week’s Miami International Boat Show their vision for future regulation, management and conservation of the nation’s marine fisheries.

Members of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management would like to help guide policy decisions as Congress debates the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The commission, co-chaired by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats president Scott Deal, detailed specific management recommendations for maintaining healthy saltwater fisheries stocks while balancing the aims of both recreational and commercial fishers.

“We can’t manage recreational fisheries as we do commercial fisheries,” said panel member Larry McKinney, executive director of the Harte Research Institute.

“Recreational anglers are more focused on abundance and size structure than how to bring them to market. Our committee is not asking for special treatment for the recreational fishing community. It’s how we allocate marine fisheries to the greatest benefit of the nation.”

The commission says that in 2011, about 11 million saltwater anglers spent about $27 billion pursuing their sport, generating more than $70 billion in economic output and sustaining 450,000 jobs. But, the panel contends, the National Marine Fisheries Service — in charge of managing saltwater fish in federal waters — focuses primarily on commercial fishing.

“Anglers spend more than the National Marine Fisheries Service’s operating budget and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s operating budget,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association, an industry trade group.

“It’s really time to pay attention to recreational fishing.”

The commission recommends the Magnuson-Stevens Act include a national saltwater recreational fishing policy that sets out goals and strategies for managing recreational fisheries at the local, state and federal levels.

Other recommendations: manage saltwater fish based on long-term harvest rates rather than poundage-based quotas; consider other factors besides maximum sustainable yield to set catch limits; require the NMFS to work with the National Academy of Sciences to develop guidelines and criteria that regional fishery management councils such as the South Atlantic must consider when allocating fisheries between recreational and commercial sectors; provide those councils greater latitude in setting timetables for rebuilding fish stocks; require the councils to come up with a process to determine stock by stock whether a state or the federal government should be in charge of managing that fishery; and consider prey species, such as minnows and crustaceans, in management of the bigger fish that eat them.

Said Morris: “Sharing our outdoor heritage with our children and grandchildren means we must work hard now to improve saltwater recreational fisheries management.”

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