-By Mike Leonard, Vice President of Government Affairs, American Sportfishing Association
As you’ve hopefully heard by now, the Modern Fish Act recently passed both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and was signed into law by the President. Although first introduced in April 2017, the origins of this bill to improve federal saltwater fisheries management go back much further than that.
Most of the bill’s provisions were inspired by the Morris-Deal Commission Report, released in 2014. Many of the proposed improvements for federal saltwater fisheries management in the Morris-Deal Report had been debated for some time before then.
All that’s to say: it’s been a long time coming.
Congress has been operating with a high level of gridlock (look no further than the current government shutdown), and most experts expect things to get worse under a divided Congress for at least the next two years.
For the recreational fishing community to achieve this legislative victory in these challenging political times speaks to the effectiveness of the coalition of organizations working on your behalf, the power of the sportfishing industry when it makes its voice heard and the increasing recognition among political leaders of recreational fishing’s importance to the nation.
ASA was proud to work with a united set of organizations to support the passage of the Modern Fish Act, including the Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, The Billfish Foundation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Working together and advocating with the same message was instrumental to the bill’s success. The bill had some expected – and unexpected – detractors along the way but having the core of the recreational fishing community speaking with a unified voice allowed Members of Congress to not have to pick sides within our own community (as has sometimes been the case in the past). They knew the Modern Fish Act had the full backing of the true recreational fishing community.
Helping to make that point crystal clear for Members of Congress was the tremendous response from ASA’s members in advocating for the bill. From submitting supportive op-eds, to promoting Keep America Fishing action alerts, to calling or visiting congressional offices, ASA’s members stepped up in a big way and were critical to the bill’s passage.
It’s exciting to see that the sportfishing industry’s heightened involvement in government affairs does translate to more legislative and policy victories. Passage of the Modern Fish Act is just one of many government affairs accomplishments in which ASA was proud to engage over the past year. There’s no question that the economic and cultural importance of recreational fishing is increasingly being recognized by policymakers.
The Modern Fish Act isn’t going to overhaul the federal marine fisheries management system overnight. It’ll likely take several fishing seasons before the management and data collection improvements called for in the Act begin to better align fishing regulations with actual fish abundance and harvest, and with what anglers really want out of management.
It’s also important to note that not all the changes called for in earlier versions of the Modern Fish Act made it through in the final version. This was the unfortunate reality of needing unanimous approval of the U.S. Senate to clear the bill. Even though it’s big to us, in the grand scheme, bills such as the Modern Fish Act rarely receive floor time and therefore can only pass with unanimous approval.
ASA will continue working with Congress, NOAA Fisheries and the Regional Fishery Management Councils to ensure that the provisions of the Modern Fish Act are carried out, and other priorities of the recreational fishing community are advanced.
While we’ve accomplished a lot, there’s still much more work to be done. That said, let’s take a few moments to celebrate this win, especially at a time when wins are so hard to come by.