The so-called Modern Fish Act received unanimous support in the Senate late yesterday, Monday, Dec. 17.
Whether or not you're a stakeholder in the Gulf Coast or South Atlantic fisheries, this act is a sign of things to come. Here's why.
A different version of this act passed in the House this summer as part of the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization (H.R. 200). In the meantime, industry groups have been working with the recreational fishing lobby to soften language that allows for a quota grab in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic fisheries.
One of the loudest voices behind this grab is Yamaha, mostly known in this industry for outboard engines, and working in concert with the Coastal Conservation Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
It's no surprise Yamaha would support recreational fishing over commercial fishing. They may call it an act of good stewardship, but there's also an obvious calculation — recreational boaters buy more outboard engines.
And if they're front and center in the fight to snatch commercial quota from public access for the benefit of the private sportfishing sector, then hey, that's just good advertising.
Zoom out a little here, and you will see that a Japanese corporation is lobbying Congress to change federal fisheries laws to secure its customer base of engine buyers. Yes, this is how lobbying works. No, it is not illegal per se.
But Yamaha is seeing some backlash. I've written about the company's wild and unfounded campaign claims here. And now the environmental group Mighty Earth is running its own campaign against Yamaha's allegiance to the sport fleet.
In response to one of Mighty Earth's protests of Yamaha's influence over the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) fired back in an op-ed published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution defending the company (which happens to have its U.S. headquarters in Georgia, Scott's home state).
"What type of 'environmental steward' advocates for protecting the monopoly the commercial fishing corporations have on a public resource?" Scott wrote.
It's curious that Scott calls commercial fishing quotas a monopoly when the commercial and recreational quotas are split down the middle.
The truth is that recreational fishing interests are fighting to make the split less even. They want to give the states power over federal reef fish quotas, so their tourism-driven leadership can give more fish to the recreational sector.
I know it's easy to see the individual fisherman as an icon of the American way — and in some ways it is. But commercial fishing is our nation's oldest industry. When you take access from commercial fleets in favor of sport fishermen, you're also taking that fish from a public resource and cutting it off from public access — fish markets and restaurants and the like, where anyone can buy and eat local, wild fish.
Instead of keeping wild, American fish in the marketplace, Gulf Coast state managers would hand it over to the elite class of Americans who can afford the time and access required to go fishing for fun.
If you think the CCA, Yamaha and the NMMA will take this victory and run off into the sunset, I've got some Maine shrimp quota to sell you.
This softened version of the Modern Fish Act asks for a "study of allocations" for Gulf of Mexico's reef fishery. The U.S. Comptroller General is tasked with reporting back on the quota allocation after consulting with NOAA, the two regional councils, the councils' Science and Statistical Committees, state fishery commissions and stakeholders.
What it doesn't mention is that the Gulf and South Atlantic councils are now stacked against the commercial sector, and the gulf states' leadership is heavily biased toward recreational fishing, so what is their input likely to entail?
What the act does not require is accountability for a recreational fishery that consistently overfishes (sometimes with the feds' blessing) or responsibility for the expense of federal fishery assessments. What's modern about that? It sounds downright antiquated to me, and not in the quaint way.
Should this version pass the House, we will find out within a year the results of this federal study. Stay tuned.