recreational fishing
Capt. Kris Kelley/flickr

Modern Fish Act: Is Removing Saltwater Recreational Fishing Limits a Good Thing?

Since the 1970s, saltwater commercial and recreational fishing has been regulated.

The purpose behind the regulation was to prevent fisheries from collapsing.

Before then, international waters started just 12 miles of the U.S. coast. Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) in 1976.

This extended U.S. jurisdiction out 200 miles. It also set fisheries management standards, which applied to both commercial and recreational fishing.

However, that may be changing.

The Modern Fish Act (MFA) is moving through the House of Representatives. Officially, it's known as the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (HR 2023).

Basically, the bill would deregulate saltwater recreational fishing. Some folks aren't happy with the proposed bill.

"The Modern Fish Act inserts too much uncertainty into the fisheries management process by adversely changing catch limits and how they are applied, muddies the waters between state and federal management, and allows political and economic considerations to override science in management decisions," says the Marine Fisheries Conservation Network.

Conservationists and commercial fishermen aren't fond of MFA, either.

While annual catch limits (ACL) would still be in place to prevent overfishing, MFA offers a loophole. Recreational fishing limits wouldn't be required where fishing rates were below federal targets. And ACLs would be removed where overfishing wasn't happening.

Many recreational anglers are for the MFA to allow flexible management for recreational fishing and not being forced into commercial fisheries management.

They cite the fact that recreational anglers, and the industries that go with them, infuse billions of dollars in the economy. In addition, anglers point out that reliable recreational catch data is difficult to come be, unlike commercial fishing.

Advocates for the bill say that dropping limits because a fishery is doing better could result in overfishing as has happened in the past. Also, MFA has proposed provisions to improve fisheries data collection.