July 19, 2018

Modern Fish Act Passes U.S. House of Representatives

Holland & Knight Transportation Blog
John Richard Chapman III

In July 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 200, a bill that includes the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act). The Modern Fish Act seeks to change recreational fishing regulations and permit more regulation on the state level. It has bipartisan support, but is opposed by some commercial fishing interests and conservation organizations.

More than 11 million Americans participate in recreational saltwater fishing. Since 1976, the saltwater fishing community – both commercial and recreational – has been regulated by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. However in 2014, the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management identified and presented to Congress a report outlining recreational and boating priorities. Many of the 2014 commission’s recommendations were incorporated into the Modern Fish Act, which was first proposed by lawmakers last year. 

The Modern Fish Act aims to reduce federal regulations over recreational saltwater anglers. For example, it would eliminate federally-set recreational annual catch limits for fish species that are not currently overfished. The Modern Fish Act has seen widespread support among recreational fishing and boating organizations, conservation groups and industry players. 135 marine-industry executives across the nation signed a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives supporting the bill. Proponents laud that it will provide recreational anglers reasonable access to public resources, while ensuring sustainable fisheries. 

However, the Modern Fish Act has its critics. Opponents of the bill argue that it lacks the certainty imposed by the current regulations, and creates too many unclear exceptions to mandatory timelines to rebuild overfished stocks. These mandatory timelines exist in the current law under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Further uncertainties are highlighted by the bill’s detractors, such as whether states have the ability to effectively manage fish that inhabit and travel across state lines and whether recreational data will be reliable for conservation decisions going forward.   

The House passing the Modern Fish Act follows the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Feb. 28, 2018, vote to approve its version of the Modern Fish Act, as discussed here.

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