As a Star Wars movie, the title might be: Return of the Anglers, Net Fishermen Fight Back.
Catching fish and saving fish are real-life pursuits, however, not a movie. The people who catch fish had the nation’s premier federal fishing law on their side until reauthorizations of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1996 and 2006.
Those reauthorizations of a law originally enacted in 1976 to kick foreign fishermen off the coast and boost the U.S. fishing industry were heavily influenced by environmental groups trying to save fish stocks. The effort has produced some success stories, but it has also put a lot of fishermen out of business.
A Magnuson Act reauthorization is underway again, with congressional committees already holding hearings. It is expected to become one of the biggest fishing issues of 2014.
“It’s up for reauthorization every 10 years. By 2016 it will be reauthorized, but they’re starting to work on it now,” said Adam Nowalsky, of the New Gretna, Burlington County-based Recreational Fishing Alliance.
RFA officials already testified at a Senate hearing in November to fight rigid catch limits designed to rebuild fisheries in 10-year time frames. This has even led to the closing of some fisheries. The fishermen want more flexibility built into the reauthorization. Since 2006 there have been at least eight legislative attempts by the fishing industry to change the act, but none was approved. The reauthorization appears to be the best shot at major changes.
“It’s taken seven years to get to this point, but RFA’s message of management reform has collected the overwhelming support of the fishing community and management officials alike,” RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio said.
While Donofrio represents anglers, commercial fishing interests have the same concerns. Nils Stolpe, a spokesman for the commercial industry, said if a 15-year rebuilding schedule will keep fishermen in business, then it makes more sense than a 10-year schedule. He also questions the goal of getting every fish species to its highest levels, called maximum sustainable yield,” or MSY, at once.
“We need more flexibility, more ability for the managers to manage without being bound by unrealistic requirements, sometimes silly and damaging requirements. You can’t get everything to MSY at once. You have a bunch of fish species in the same ecological niche. They eat the same stuff, when they aren’t eating each other,” Stolpe said.