How Government is Impacting The Future of Fishing Right Now

As industry leaders gathered virtually this week for the 2020 American Sportfishing Association Sportfishing Summit, the group’s government affairs team reported on a year of work that’s seen groundbreaking legislation pass from bill into law. Today, we break down that work and tell you how new bills and laws could impact the future of fisheries in your backyard.

Cliffnotes You Can’t Miss

The Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law this year. This major act with a generic name guarantees $900 million per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That money is collected from royalty payments made by offshore oil companies. According to ASS Vice President of Government Affairs Mike Leonard, about half of that funding is typically allocated to other projects by Congress. However, the Great American Outdoors Act guarantees that it will now go to fund federal, state and local efforts to improve fisheries and create access to the outdoors.

Nationally, the act is garnering attention for providing up to $9.5 billion in funds for federal public land maintenance over the next half decade. This money will go to the National Park Services, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Education to put a dent in a dearth of deferred maintenance that has been backlogged for decades. Since 1980, America’s public lands have seen a 50% increase in visitors; however, their maintenance budgets have remained largely flat.

The Great American Outdoors Act represents a bi-partisan coalition, championed by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Steve Daines (R-MT), Maria Cantrell (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

The federal government currently faces a $20 billion maintenance backlog on public lands covering 640 million acres.

America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, the ACE Act, was also signed into law this year. That act authorizes funding for the National Fish Habitat Partnership, a program of state, local and federal agencies dedicated to aquatic habitat restoration. Right now, the program’s scope is limited to less than 20 projects, but incorporates the Great Lakes, Great Plains, Hawaii, Ohio River Basin, Atlantic Coast, California, Utah, and the Pacific Northwest.

In 2008, then-ASA Vice President Gordon Robinson was instrumental in drafting the foundation for the ACE Act, which also provides a five year protection on the “unwarranted” ban of lead fishing tackle. According to Leonard, the EPA regularly receives petitions to ban lead fishing tackle nationwide. Until 2025, those petitions should have little impact due to the ACE Act.

30 by 30 is a new global initiative to protect 30% of all worldwide lands and waters by the year 2030 in an effort to combat climate change. The World Bank estimates that global forests have shrunk by 502,000 square miles in the past 25 years, drastically reducing the habitat for about 80% of the biodiversity on the planet and reducing the Earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Ocean fisheries are responsible for feeding 3 billion people; however, just 2% of oceans are currently protected. World oceans also absorb greenhouse gases, about 30% of the total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as well as about 90% of the heat caused by global warming. The movement’s proponents say protecting 30% of world oceans—including reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds— would create 150,000-180,000 full-time jobs by 2050 while also reducing risk of extreme weather events. They also say increased biodiversity and habitat area would result in more and larger fish.

The ASA says they support conservation, but also want to ensure that recreational fisheries are not negatively impacted by the project. Doing so will require outreach and education, promoting recreational fishing as sustainable and a positive for the environment.

30 by 30 is being supported internationally by leaders from 25 countries, and domestically by The National Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The National Geographic Society, and the Sierra Club.

Senate Democrats endorsed 30 by 30 earlier this month.

Ongoing Legislation

The ASA is feverishly awaiting Senate action on the DESCEND Act, a bill that would require recreational and commercial fishing vessels to carry an onboard descending device for reef fish in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This device would help ensure that red snapper and other reef fish that are returned to the water do not suffer from barotrauma—a condition where a buildup of gas pressure in their bodies makes it difficult or impossible to swim back down to the reef.

The act has passed through the House of Representatives earlier this month.

ASA officials are hopeful that the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act will be passed this year. That bill is currently in the House of Representatives. It would prohibit the use of gill nets with a mesh size of 14 inches or greater in the United States.

Full Breakdown

A complete breakdown of ongoing legislation affecting the sportfishing industry—including regional projects— can be viewed via the ASA Sportfishing Summit’s virtual presentation below.