MAGNUSON REAUTHORIZATION BILL. A bill to reauthorize the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) was introduced by Jared Huffman (D-CA) who chairs the Fisheries Subcommittee. HR4690 was introduced in July 2021 and includes changes and priorities to federal fisheries management following a year of solicited public input and hearings. As expected, HR4690 is very climate change-focused. RFA has reviewed the bill and prepared comments which will be submitted to Rep. Huffman and the committee. A hearing in the House Resources Committee is being talked about for November 2021. The hearing would cover the Huffman MSA bill and another MSA bill introduced by Don Young (R-AK). RFA will continue to engage with bill cosponsors and members of Congresses to ensure the best interests of the recreational fishing industry are included in the MSA bill.
OFFSHORE WIND: 16 areas off of the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina have been identified and leased to companies to construct and operate offshore wind electric generation facilities for the next 25-35 years. Offshore wind development stands to have impacts on fish species and fish habitat important to recreational fishermen. Offshore wind also stands to impact how recreational fishermen and boats move in, around and through the offshore wind facilities. RFA is and plans to engage with wind developers, host states and all permitting agencies to minimize negative impacts to the recreational fishing industry.
30/30 INITIATIVE: 30/30 is a concept developed in the US Convention on Biodiversity to preserve 30% of all lands and waters by 2030. Within the first few weeks of his administration, President Biden issued an executive order that charged all federal agencies to produce reports on how the US could achieve this goal. Many speculate that as much as 26% of US waters and lands are already under some level of protection. RFA has joined the HuntFish3030 coalition which is activity working to show that the US has likely already reached the 30/30 protection goals and that any further closures that exclude recreational fishermen is not an option. RFA plans to work closely with officials in the executive branch as well as with legislators to ensure that recreational fishermen are precluded unnecessarily from areas in the ocean in an attempt to meet the 30/30 goal through the creation or expansion of National Marine Sanctuaries (goes through a public approval process) or National Marine Monuments (done through executive order).
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT DETERMINATION FOR SHORTFIN MAKO: An ENGO submitted a petition to list the Shortfin Mako shark as an endangered species. NOAA Fisheries is currently conducting its 90 day review to determine if a formal review is necessary. Currently, the stock is overfished and overfishing may be occurring. Mako is managed internationally through ICCAT and the makos that US fishermen catch are also fished on by countries in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, notably, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. US fishermen have reduced their catch of Mako by 78% over the past 3 years and account for less than 3% of the overall mortality on the mako stock. RFA is advocating against an ESA listing because the jurisdiction of ESA is limited to US waters, thus, ESA would not address the majority of the mako mortality, 90% of which is attributed to the above-mentioned countries. NOAA Fisheries is currently reviewing public comments and available data to make a determination if an ESA evaluation should continue or if adequate protections are already in place. A notice of finding should be released soon. RFA is also pressuring the US State Department to take a stronger stand against other ICCAT nations that have failed to do their part to rebuild the mako fishery.
MANAGEMENT STRATEGY EVALUATION FOR SUMMER FLOUNDER: RFA continues to participate in the summer flounder management strategy evaluation initiated by the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council. RFA was selected to serve on a core group of stakeholders who are working through a management strategy evaluation for the recreational summer flounder fishery. The evaluation will take a deep dive into persistent issues with the fishery and what action could help improve satisfaction in the fishery and help achieve conservation goals. This process is expected to last 1.5 years.
RECREATIONAL REFORM INITIATIVE: RFA is working in conjunction with industry groups, regional fishery management council members, state directors and NOAA Fisheries on an initiative that would adopt a significantly different approach for the management of recreational fisheries. The idea is to move the recreational sector away from a quota based approach, which is a commercial fishing approach, and move towards an approach that ties recreational regulations to the status of the stock. The goal is to address the issue where rebuilt stocks result in more restrictive recreational regulations which increases discard mortality and stifles growth of the fishery. This process is expected to be finalized in the first quarter of 2022.
ICCAT RECALIBRATION OF JAPANESE LONGLINE TIME SERIES: ICCAT is currently in the process of revisiting historic catch information from Japanese longline data sets. That evaluation is resulting in updated estimates of abundance for several species including blue and white marlin. The preliminary analysis indicates that blue and white marlin are in much better shape than previously thought. This is driving an undercurrent by some ICCAT nations to push for a greater take of blue and white marlin. Since these species are highly migratory, increased take of marlin in other countries will impact the availability of marlin to fishermen in US waters. RFA is working with ICCAT Commissioners and industry groups to address this developing issue to ensure we don’t see an expansion of commercial marlin harvest. RFA is also working to initiate additional research programs to evaluate the exact amount of mortality and fishing pressure some of these highly migratory species experience outside of US territorial waters.
REGIONAL FISHERY MANAGEMENT COUNCIL APPOINTMENT: On an annual basis, RFA and other industry groups engage in the process to identify and support the appointment of individuals to the regional fishery management council. The regional councils develop and approve fishery management plans for federally managed species and make incredibly important decisions on topics such as allocation and quotas. The selection process is one that requires lots of on-the-ground lobbying work at both the state and federal levels. Governors are required to submit no less than 3 qualified candidates and the Secretary of Commerce makes the final appointments by choosing from the Governors’ lists.
QUOTA SETTING: RFA is very much involved with the annual quota setting process for summer flounder, black sea bass, scup, bluefin tuna, and many other species. This is a critically important process as it dictates how many fish will be allowed to be caught by recreational anglers. This also determines regulations such as seasons, size limits, and bag limits. This quota setting process starts at the science and assessment level mid-year before moving to the regional councils and NOAA Fisheries towards the end of the year.
SUMMER FLOUNDER, SCUP, BLACK SEA BASS, RED SNAPPER, DOLPHIN ALLOCATION: RFA is currently heavily involved with an amendment to the summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fishery management plan that will revisit allocations of all three species between the commercial and recreational sectors. In 2019, NOAA Fisheries released new recreational estimates of catch going back to 1981. These revised catch estimates force the councils to revisit allocation since most allocation decisions are based on catch or landings from a baseline year(s). The commercial sector is working to stop any changes to allocation but RFA and others are arguing that changes must be made since the data to make the original allocation decisions have all been updated. This is an ongoing process that will take 12-15 months until final action is taken.
ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS REBUILDING PLAN: Decisions on a rebuilding plan for Atlantic Striped Bass continue at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to end overfishing and to rebuilding the female spawning stock biomass. In 2020, measures were put in place to reduce fishing mortality by 18%. Those measures focused on, among other things, reducing recreational discard mortality and implementing the use of circle hooks when fishing bait. Amendment 7 to the Striped Bass fishery management plan that will focus on rebuilding efforts, conservation equivalency, and management triggers. RFA will continue to work with its chapters, members, and industry partners as the amendment for this important recreational fishery unfolds.
FEDERAL APPROPRIATION REQUESTS: Each year, the RFA submits requests to the Senate to support and fund specific programs and projects that would improve fisheries monitoring and assessment, support sustainable management approaches and benefit the recreational fishing industry. RFA works on an annual basis with scientists, fishery managers, and industry leaders to identify funding priorities to be submitted to the Senate for consideration. Additional lobbying is conducted after submission to gain further support.