Hawaii is well known for its beautiful, sandy beaches, sparkling sea and productive coral reef teeming with marine life. The state’s natural resources make Hawaii an exceptional place for those who love recreational fishing and for those who rely on healthy fish stocks to provide food for their families and neighbors. I want to thank Senator Brian Schatz for standing tall for recreational and subsistence fishermen in Hawaii.
In the last administration, President Obama expanded the area of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Sen. Schatz led the efforts to ensure recreational fishing was allowed in the expanded area. In the current administration, Sen. Schatz stepped up as an original cosponsor of the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017,” more commonly known as the Modern Fish Act.
The Modern Fish Act, awaiting floor action in the U.S. Senate, will tweak current law to address the differences in fisheries and fishing interests across the country. Most importantly, the bill distinguishes the fundamental differences between industrial commercial fishing and recreational fishing. The goal of commercial fishing is to obtain a maximum yield as efficiently as possible to make a profit. Recreational fishing means many different things to many different people: Some anglers fish to feed their family and friends; some seek a relaxing day on the water and a connection with nature, and for many it’s a combination.
According to latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), the majority of non-commercial fishermen in Hawaii indicated fishing for food was important, especially for sharing meals with their family and friends. In 2015, anglers in Hawaii spent $97 million on fishing trip expenditures, supported more than 900 jobs, and had a sales impact of more than $119 million.
Since 1976, federal marine fisheries have been managed by the Magnuson-Stevens Act—a law designed to manage commercial fishing and intended to recover fish stocks in serious trouble due to overfishing. While the law has been successful in recovering more than 40 fish stocks, it has penalized anglers with shortened or even canceled fishing seasons based on a lack of reliable scientific data for the recreational sector. But public access is not the only victim of poor data collection. Marine conservation efforts are hindered, too.
Those of us who live on the water understand the importance of conservation. Clean water and healthy fisheries are essential to our way of life. And without anglers and boaters, a major portion of U.S. conservation funding would not exist. The cycle is very simple. Sportsmen and women need an abundance of marine life to be successful in their pursuits. Therefore, anglers and boaters foot the bill for conservation—to the tune of $1.3 billion annually—through license fees, excise taxes on equipment and fuel, and charitable contributions. The correlation between public access and conservation is particularly meaningful to any federal fisheries policy debate. The two go hand in hand.
More than 40 years since the Magnuson-Stevens Act was signed into law, Congress is taking steps through the Modern Fish Act to make common-sense adjustments to the system that will give more tools to federal fisheries managers, bring parity for recreational anglers under the law and promote conservation of our valuable marine resources.
Every year, more than 11 million Americans travel to our nation’s coasts to enjoy saltwater fishing adventures, and with that comes an economic impact of $63 billion. Yet, over the years, the federal government has routinely ignored the cultural and economic importance of saltwater recreational fishing to the nation, until now. Thanks to the leadership of Members of Congress like Senator Schatz, we may finally experience a sea change in federal fisheries management.
Now is our time to improve the Magnuson-Stevens Act by including more appropriate management techniques for recreational fisheries and promoting consideration of new data collection methods that could improve fisheries management. Ultimately, a management system based on reliable scientific data will better serve our nation’s anglers and the public’s natural marine resources.
I truly appreciate Senator Schatz’s support of America’s recreational anglers, and I urge his colleagues to join him in supporting this reasonable, bipartisan legislation.
Jeff Angers is president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy representing the nation’s saltwater recreational fishing industry and the millions of Americans for whom recreational fishing is a way of life.