Modern Fish Act Signed by President

The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, known as the “Modern Fish Act,” or S. 1520, passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in late December and was signed by President Trump just before the end of the year.  The bill seeks to address frustration with federal management of recreational fishing, stemming from shortened or cancelled seasons and reduced bag limits.

The legislation has been billed as a bi-partisan compromise that provides authority and direction to NOAA Fisheries to apply additional management tools to manage recreational fishing such as extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or cultural practices to manage recreational fishing while maintaining the requirement for annual catch limits. Recreational angling interests have long sought data sources that can be used to more precisely estimate harvest than current options.  The bill requires federal managers to continue to explore options that can improve accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates.

Earlier this year, the American Fisheries Society released a set of policy recommendations that provided scientific and management advice to inform both proposed recreational fisheries legislation and a broader Magnuson-Stevens Act re-authorization. It covered four main areas including standards for best available science for introduce data into the management process, catch limits and rebuilding, habitat and ecosystems, and adapting to environment change.

The following is a statement from Doug Austen, Executive Director of the American Fisheries Society:

“We are pleased that the Modern Fish Act maintains the fundamental scientific framework of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We recognize the inherent difficulties of estimating recreational catch and managing those fisheries to stay within annual catch limits, particularly where that catch is measured to estimate landings in pounds. AFS recommends pilot testing of alternative approaches to measure catch, like direct measurement of exploitation rates, rather than traditional biomass catch accounting, and a more adaptable approach to defining optimal yield in individual fisheries to meet the needs of in-season management. Looking ahead, we encourage Congress to look to a broader Magnuson-Stevens re-authorization to tackle some significant challenges that current law does not address. AFS is particularly interested in seeing a re-authorization that looks to flexibly deal with rapidly changing ocean conditions like rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and the challenges from moving fish stocks. AFS cannot overstate the importance of monitoring and evaluating the effects of climate-related factors on population structure and biological rates and incorporating these factors into stock assessments and science advice.”