Sportfishing Industry Urges Congress to Support Smart Conservation Policies

Alexandria, Va. – The American Sportfishing Association (ASA), representing the recreational fishing industry, stressed the importance of passing several top priorities regarding forage fish and reducing mortality rates among reef fish during today’s hearing in the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.

The House subcommittee heard testimony in favor of the bipartisan Forage Fish Conservation Act, which was introduced in April 2019 in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Debbie Dingle (D-Mich.) and Brian Mast (R- Fla.). This legislation would require federal fisheries managers to consider the role forage fish play in the marine ecosystems when catch limits are set. Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Southeast Fisheries Policy director, testified on ASA’s behalf.

“Forage fish provide food for nearly all recreationally important fish species, as well as seabirds and other marine life,” said Ralston. “Meanwhile, human demand for these nutrient-rich species continues to increase. As these integral parts of the marine food web become targeted for commercial exploitation, it’s critically important that forage fish management accounts for their role in marine ecosystems.”

Ralston continued, “The Forage Fish Conservation Act would require that the impacts on fish populations and the marine ecosystem be considered before implementing management plans for forage fish.”

Another key conservation policy priority that received consideration during the U.S. House Subcommittee hearing was the DESCEND Act which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) in November 2019. Given the importance of Gulf of Mexico red snapper to the region’s economy and culture, the DESCEND Act would help to lower discard mortality rates by requiring commercial and recreational fishermen to possess a descending device rigged and ready for use or venting tool when fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

The DESCEND Act has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.).

“Gulf of Mexico red snapper has arguably been the most politically controversial fish in the region over the last decade,” stated Ralston. “And while there have been successes in better management of this reef fish, challenges still need to be addressed – including discard mortality.”

Ralston further stated, “The DESCEND Act would help mitigate the discard mortality rate which can occur when a fish is quickly brought up from the depths of the ocean causing a dramatic pressure change, known as barotrauma. If barotrauma is not addressed hundreds of thousands of Gulf red snapper will be wasted each year.”

Additional legislation, including the Climate-Ready Fisheries Act of 2019, also received consideration during the subcommittee hearing. This bill will help to better identify the future needs of fisheries management as fish stocks relocate due to changing environmental conditions.

Finally, the Fisheries Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations (Fishery FUNDD) Act would streamline the federal fisheries disaster program, which helps the fishing community recover in the wake of an emergency and provide better inclusion of the recreational fishing industry.