Congress to Discuss Fisheries

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The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is keeping a close eye on renewed activities by the 113th Congress with regard to improved angling access and opportunities in the future, and reports that the House Natural Resources Committee has a full schedule of critical debate planned for this week.

On Wednesday, March 13th at 10 a.m. Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) will kick off the first in a series of hearings on the process to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Funding for the primary statute governing fishing activities in Federal waters, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is set to expire at the end of Fiscal Year 2013, and according RFA executive director Jim Donofrio, it’s going to be another contentious process.

“We’ve been spearheading efforts to reform this broken federal fisheries law since it was first reauthorized by unanimous consent in the Senate back in 2006, an action that occurred because a group of environmental organizations essentially got their way without open and honest debate,” Donofrio said.

“RFA has been fighting hard to get this federal law amended since early in 2007, and we’ve testified numerous times before the House Natural Resources Committee, currently chaired by Doc Hastings, as to ways this law could be enhanced with minor changes to provide a better balance of commerce and conservation, and we’re hoping that the voice of fishermen will ring louder than that of the anti’s this time around.”

According to Chairman Hastings, his Committee held several oversight and legislative hearings on the Magnuson-Stevens Act during the last Congress (112th), noting specifically that among the specific issues raised during those hearings included “basing annual catch limits on better science; requiring participant approval of new catch share programs; allowing rebuilding flexibility for certain fisheries; using NOAA enforcement funds to acquire better fisheries information; requiring decisions on commercial fisheries disaster assistance in a timely manner; and requiring better transparency for the activities and decisions of the regional fishery management councils.”

Donofrio said one particular Committee bill which came from these specific hearings which would address the issues outlined above was the Transparent and Science-Based Fishery Management Act of 2012 sponsored by Committee member Jon Runyan (R-NJ) and supported by fellow Committee members Steve Southerland (R-FL) and Don Young (R-AK).

“RFA would like to see the Magnuson-Stevens Act reformed now as opposed to later in order to protect and preserve what’s left of our struggling recreational fishing industry, and this particular bill has various components supported by many different factions which makes it the perfect vehicle for moving forward,” Donofrio said.

On Thursday, March 14th at 10 a.m., members of Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation chaired by the Honorable Rob Bishop (R-UT) will listen to testimony in support of H.R. 819, a bill sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) which would authorize pedestrian and motorized vehicular access in Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, and for other purposes. The aptly named Preserving Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area Act would limit the Commerce Secretary from being overly restrictive of recreational activities, including surfcasting, at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.

The House Natural Resources Committee itself last year noted that a recent federal decision to turn away surfcasters is in many ways similar to the implementation of ‘no take’ marine reserves planned in other areas to ban boating anglers too. “Fishing is an important economic activity that draws tourists and provides locals with an excellent outdoor recreational opportunity,” the Committee noted last year, adding “Access to Cape Hatteras National Recreational Area has been severely limited by Park Service management and environmental lawsuits under the guise of species protection. Not only have vehicles been restricted from areas traditionally available, but in some areas pedestrian access was eliminated as well.”

Donofrio said RFA is very much in favor of the Jones’ bill and is hoping that the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation will react favorably on Thursday.

“We’ve seen a systemic problem at the federal level to restrict public access through restrictive federal laws and a burdensome bureaucracy, maybe having two hearings in one week on behalf of coastal anglers is a good sign for a new year,” Donofrio said.

For live hearing information, go to http://naturalresources.house.gov/live

About Recreational Fishing Alliance
The Recreational Fishing Alliance is a national, grassroots political action organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues. The RFA Mission is to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries. For more information, call 888-JOIN-RFA or visit www.joinrfa.org.