By Ryck Lydecker
For 43 years, BoatU.S. has
represented the interests of recreational boaters before Congress,
federal regulatory agencies, and
other public policy-making bodies
that can and do affect your favorite
activities on the water. Our goal as
active boaters is to help keep boating affordable and attainable.
With a staff of three, our
BoatU.S. Government Affairs office
works on boating issues ranging
from taxation and boating safety, to
maintaining boating access.
For more information on these stories, and how our BoatU.S. Government
Affairs office works for you, go to
22 BoatU.S. Magazine AUG/SEPT 2010
The Search For Balance
In Managing Fish
anaging saltwater fish populations is a tough
business. Just ask any fishery biologist. Supply
depends upon many hard-to-control factors
— the weather for example. Inventory is in
a state of constant flux, always swimming by
and mostly unseen. But demand? It’s always
there. Americans love seafood and some 70 percent of recreational
boaters are also sport anglers. In saltwater recreational fishing
today, participation is strong, with 12 million anglers.
Fish in U.S. ocean waters are managed species-by-species
with catch limits for both commercial and recreational fishermen
set by complex formulas. Fishery managers not only determine
how many fish can be caught, they may also set fishing areas,
seasons, and size limitations, with the ultimate goal to ensure
that we have healthy, sustainable fish populations now and in the
future. It wasn’t always that way, though, because the oceans once
were thought inexhaustible. That mindset began to change in
the 1950s. Then, with passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery
Conservation and Management Act in 1976, Congress established
the primary law governing marine fisheries. Responsibility for
managing those saltwater fisheries beyond state waters lies with
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), also known
as NOAA Fisheries, and the agency has continued to manage U.S.
fish stocks for both commercial and sportfishing, largely through
eight regional Fishery Management Councils. The Act underwent
a major overhaul during congressional reauthorization in 1996 and
in 2006, when lawmakers added strict provisions and timelines to,
by 2011, end the chronic problem of overfishing — taking fish out
of the water faster than a given species can reproduce them.
NMFS has reported to Congress that more than three-quarters
of the stocks it manages are “not overfished.” But among those
stocks overfished or headed in that direction are species very
important to sport anglers, such as red snapper in the South
Atlantic, amberjack in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic black sea bass,
and some Pacific rockfishes. The agency proposed closing or
severely curtailing these fisheries. In light of the catastrophic oil spill
in the Gulf of Mexico, of course, all bets are off; some species may
be wiped out. However, the recreational fishing community claims
that many of the stocks are strong in other parts of the country and
they have become critical of NMFS and its lack of data to validate
such decisions. Critics claim the agency doesn’t understand recreational fishing and, as a result, treats sportfishing as an afterthought
in management decisions such as stock allocations.
Hoping to shed light on these controversial
issues, BoatU.S. Magazine asked the leaders of three key organizations that engage the agency and Congress on fisheries management
to comment. To each, we asked: Is current federal management of our
saltwater fisheries serving the best interests of recreational anglers?
And if not, what changes would improve it?
PHO TO BY ONNE VAN DER WAL
Associate Editor Ryck Lydecker is also a member of the BoatU.S.
Government Affairs staff. He works on policy issues regarding boating
access, sportfishing, and general boating topics.