NOAA Fisheries has announced plans to develop a national recreational fishing policy — something anglers, industry leaders, scientists and conservationists have been urging for years.
The announcement came during Wednesday’s national Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit in Alexandria, Va. — the second meeting of NOAA Fisheries leaders and more than 100 representatives of the fishing community.
“Resolving issues facing our fisheries today requires partnerships between managers, scientists and people who enjoy the resource,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “I commit that NOAA Fisheries will actively engage the recreational fishing community, and we will do our part to find cooperative solutions.”
NOAA figures show some 11 million people fish recreationally in saltwater throughout the United States, generating tens of billions of dollars in economic impact and representing one of the agency’s largest organized constituencies. But many of those constituents have felt left out of the agency’s decisionmaking process on how to manage fish stocks, and that more weight has been given to the desires of the commercial fishing industry.
In 2009, NOAA pledged to improve relations with the recreational fishing community and announced the Recreational Fishing Engagement Initiative, which established a recreational working group associated with the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. The following year, the agency held its first national recreational summit.
Working with Russell Dunn, NOAA’s national policy advisor for recreational fisheries, the working group proposed ways to improve recreational fishing opportunities; collect better data on stocks, bycatch and effort; and develop more information about the socioeconomics of recreational fishing.
Carl Liederman, president of Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply in Miami, served on that working group and attended last week’s summit.
“This is a huge step forward from our perspective,” Liederman said. “We will now be recognized as an equal partner. We were always something of a stepchild. We’re excited. It’s been a long time coming.”
At about the same time NOAA’s recreational engagement initiative was under way, the independent Commission on Saltwater Fisheries Management, co-chaired by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats president Scott Deal, was working on its own recommendations on issues that needed to be addressed as Congress worked on reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Chief among those recommendations: establishing a national policy for saltwater recreational fishing.
Following last week’s NOAA announcement, Deal said, “NOAA has demonstrated it is ready to develop those policies.”