MacPherson: ‘Congress needs to protect the longevity of our fisheries’

MacPherson: ‘Congress needs to protect the longevity of our fisheries’

I have always been a supporter of conservation and innovation in the recreational fishing community. I have often taken my children, grandchildren, extended family and friends fishing on my boat. Fishing offers us the opportunity to communicate while on the water enjoying the outdoors. Every fishing trip is an adventure.

Because of what fishing means to me and my family, I have always been an avid conservationist on the water. Healthy fisheries support recreational fishing and are a vital part of the economic health of Rhode Island.

Today, this fishing life we enjoy is being threatened by those that want to weaken the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the fishing law of this nation. There are bills in Congress supported by special interest groups that want to make it easier to take more fish for short term economic gain rather than long-term fisheries stability.

The MSA is a bipartisan law, and any changes made should have support from policymakers on both sides of the aisle. The MSA has successfully rebuilt 44 fish stocks since 2000. Success has come from a long-term commitment to sustainability by fishermen, scientists and managers. Science-based catch limits have made sure we avoid overfishing and mandatory rebuilding time lines have ensured that fisheries are rebuilt rather than letting time slide to take more fish.

Further, those that say the MSA doesn’t allow for innovation are misguided. The MSA gives regional decision-makers the flexibility to innovate in a big way. For example, during NOAA’s 2018 National Recreational Fishing Summit and the 2018 Southern New England Recreational Fishing Symposium (sponsored by the R.I. Saltwater Anglers Association), every improvement that was suggested can be made under present MSA law without any additional changes.

These innovations included improving data with electronic recording of recreational catch and effort and building climate change into allocation models. This is particularly important for Rhode Island, as climate change has impacted the distribution of species such as black sea bass and summer flounder. Another innovation recommended was an aggressive roll-out of ecosystem-based management as well as recognizing the important role forage fish, such as Atlantic menhaden, play, like serving as food for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, whales and osprey.

With these innovations possible under present MSA law, and the law working to rebuild fish stocks, we need to oppose two MSA bills in Congress, one in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 200) and one in the Senate (S.1520). Both of these bills threaten our fisheries and would set us back decades in fisheries management. For example, H.R. 200 would not require the rebuilding of depleted stocks quickly, and S.1520 would create confusion around whether science-based annual catch limits, which help keep catch at sustainable levels, would be necessary for recreational fishing.

Rather than gutting the conservation measures in MSA that work, Congress needs to protect the longevity of our fisheries. Rhode Island Senators Whitehouse and Reed should oppose S.1520 and prevent it from moving any further through the legislative process. Additionally, in the House, we urge our Congressman to likewise oppose H.R. 200.

The MSA makes sure that when I take my family and friends out fishing, there are fish in the water for us to catch. We must be good stewards of this resource if future generations are going to have the same opportunity and to do that, we can’t allow special interest groups to sacrifice that future for short-term profits.

Doug MacPherson

Fisherman

Doug MacPherson is a Pawtucket resident and serves on the board of the R.I. Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) and heads up their legislative watch efforts. The above views are not necessarily those of the RISAA board.