The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation overwhelmingly approved S. 1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). This legislation calls for critically important updates to the oversight of federal fisheries, including adding more tools to the management toolbox, improving data collection techniques, and examining some fishery allocations that are based on decades-old decisions.
The Modern Fish Act was introduced in the Senate in July 2017 by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and received strong bi-partisan support to update the nation’s fisheries management system to more accurately distinguish between recreational and commercial fishing. This bill is the result of tremendous work done over the last five years by the recreational fishing and boating community that came together to form the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management. This group, also referred to as the Morris-Deal Commission, named for co-chairs Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group, released “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” in 2014, which included key policy changes to expand saltwater recreational fishing’s social, economic and conservation benefits to the nation and formed the basis of the Modern Fish Act.
On December 13, 2017, the Modern Fish Act (H.R. 2023) was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee as part of H.R. 200. The bills must now be voted on by the House and Senate. We urge support of the Modern Fish Act and the improvements that it will bring to recreational fisheries around the nation.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved the use of Exempted Fishing Permits (EFP) submitted by the 5 Gulf States to allow each state to manage its recreational red snapper harvest for 2018 and 2019. The EFPs became necessary after a ruling from the Department of Commerce extended the 3 day recreational red snapper season in Federal Waters to 39 days, resulting in a harvest that greatly exceeded the recreational quota. The excess harvest would have triggered payback provisions requiring that the quota for 2018 be reduced by the amount of the over harvest which would have eliminated a recreational red snapper season in Federal waters.
The EFPs, which cover the 2018 and 2019 fishing years, will allow recreationally caught red snapper to be landed within certain time periods determined by the respective states.
Red snapper landings would be monitored by the states, and the respective state seasons would close when a state’s quota is caught or projected to be caught. These studies are intended to demonstrate the effectiveness of state management of recreationally caught red snapper.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will now be required to publish each plan and allow for a 30-day comment period. NOAA must then ratify each plan before implementation begins. The process is expected to take approximately 90 days
The Mississippi Legislature continues to debate whether the remaining $700 million in economic damages to be paid to the state over the next several years will be directed to the coastal counties that were impacted by the spill. Two bills in the House are under consideration that would determine how the funds will be split between Coast counties and the rest of the State and how those funds would be spent within the Coast counties. House Bill 1512 would create a nine-member Board of Trustees representing Coastal Mississippi to oversee the administration of any BP settlement funds allocated to Hancock, Harrison or Jackson Counties. These funds will be deposited into a special fund designated by the bill as the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. The legislation also creates a special fund in the State Treasury to be designated as the Mississippi Development Authority Key Programs Fund, which would oversee any funding allocated to other Mississippi counties outside the three coastal counties. A companion Bill, House Bill 1185 is the funding vehicle that will ultimately govern the percentage of the total settlement which will be deposited into the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund for the Coastal counties versus the MDA Key Programs Fund for the other counties in Mississippi. At this point, the general discussion has centered on an 80%/20% split between the Coast and the State respectively, though this is still subject to change.
MWF continues to work to have funds from the Deepwater Horizon spill obligated in a transparent, science based decision making process that ensures those monies are invested in projects and programs that support healthy coastal and marine environments, build the resiliency of our communities, and promote a strong economy.