New U.S. recreational fisheries policy announced

The federal agency that manages marine fisheries announced Thursday a new national policy that recognizes the importance and value of saltwater recreational angling in the U.S.

NOAA Fisheries Administrator Eileen Sobeck unveiled the policy document at a news conference at the Miami International Boat Show. She said it was crafted with input from fishing and boating communities, conservation organizations and fisheries managers around the nation.

“This is going to be a very valuable road map into how we do our business in the future,” Sobeck said at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

For decades, recreational anglers —whose pastime generates some $58 billion in annual sales impacts — have felt left out of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision-making in favor of commercial fishing interests. A year ago at the boat show, a blue-ribbon panel of the fishing and boating industries called the Morris-Deal Commission released its blueprint for change. The commission was co-chaired by Maverick Boat Company president Scott Deal and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. Sobeck said she took the commission’s report “very seriously.”

NOAA’s new policy calls for: supporting ecosystem conservation and management to benefit recreational and other fish stocks; promoting public access to quality recreational fishing opportunities; coordination between federal and state fisheries managers; using the latest science to meet environmental and management challenges, and keeping the recreational fishing public informed about the latest science and how it contributes to management decisions.

Sobeck said a plan to implement the policy will be released in the next two months, and regional implementation plans will be put forward next year.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio — who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard — responded with a statement that basically said it’s about time.

“I appreciate the administration finally recognizing this important industry,” Rubio’s statement said. “National fisheries policy requires a careful balance between all stakeholders. However, for too long, management of our fisheries has focused solely on the management needs of the commercial industry. I stand ready to assist in my role as senator to ensure that we work toward a management system that works for all, including our vibrant recreational fishing community.”