H.R.2023 A Fisheries Bill with Hidden Problems

H.R.2023 – Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 is co-sponsored by Rep. Garrett Graves R-LA, Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).  It is an attempt to address some concerns in fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic.  However, H.R.2023 is not only an effort to reallocate the resource, but also a one way ticket to the land of overfishing.  The bill stems from the never ending saga of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.   Recreational anglers certainly need some relief in the Gulf red snapper fishery.  But, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Here’s the bill section by section and why is doesn’t pass the mustard.

Sec. 101. Process for allocation review for South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico mixed-use fisheries.

One of the ugliest parts of fisheries management is allocation.  It is something I tried to avoid at all costs.  Allocation and conservation don’t really mix well.  When you are arguing about who gets how much of the pie, you stop thinking about the health of the fishery.  This section calls for an allocation review within two years of the passage of the bill with additional reviews every three years.  The cost of this process is going to be staggering.  You will have each sector doing economic impact studies, all the while gobbling up valuable time and resources better spent in understanding the fish.

Sec. 102. Alternative fishery management.

This one has me scratching my head.  It could open up new exciting ways to conserve the resource. But, this is not the intention.  Alternative fishery management means no catch limits for recreational anglers.  A better way to put it is removing catch limits for certain species just for the recreational sector.  How so?  See Sec 105.

Sec. 103. Moratorium on limited access privilege programs for mixed-use fisheries.

Catch shares must be really bad if you want to place a moratorium on them.  Catch shares aren’t perfect and probably deserve an article unto themselves.  However, they do have merit and aren’t giving away a public resource to a private entity.  The commercial quota remains the commercial quota.

Sec. 104. Rebuilding overfished and depleted fisheries.

I think all of you understand that fish species biology differs greatly across the spectrum.  So why would anyone want to set a 10 year limit on rebuilding?  It does try to address that with the following language.

“10 years, except in cases where the biology of the stock of fish or other environmental conditions dictate otherwise; or

(II) the sum of the time in which the affected stock of fish is expected to surpass its maximum sustainable yield biomass level in the absence of fishing mortality, and the mean generation of time of the affected stock of fish”

Sec. 105. Modifications to the annual catch limit requirement.

This is the bad one.  ACL’s would not be required when we are fishing below the target.  So, there it is.  We are essentially removing the best tool we have.  Prior to ACL’s being mandatory, there were more than 80 separate stocks experiencing overfishing.  That number has dropped to under 30 with ACL’s in place.  We won’t have healthy fisheries when they aren’t managed with limits.  The bill would only be for recreational fishermen.  Essentially, allowing overfishing for one sector while having the other adhere to strict catch limits.  Doesn’t sound fair, does it?

Sec. 106. Exempted fishing permits.
Many new management practices need to be analyzed in limited capacities before becoming mainstream.  This would stifle any attempts at new management techniques.  So, EMP’s couldn’t be used to execute Sec 102 making Sec 105 an open door to overfishing.

Sec. 201. Cooperative data collection.

I applaud any attempt to improve recreational data collection.  Most of the problems we have with stock assessments could be resolved with better data collection methods from the recreational sector.  Technology could play a large role in getting a better handle  This section of the bill could go further to strengthen the mandate but at least there’s something positive.

Sec. 202. Recreational data collection.

Beyond the data collection, H.R.2023 is not in the best interest of healthy fish stocks.  It will reallocate the resource and remove the most powerful tool that managers have-ACL’s.  Our kids, coastal communities, and fisheries deserve something better than H.R.2023.  We need to go back to the drawing board and produce something that looks to the future for all by preserving our nation’s oceans.