Recent congressional steps were taken that could eventually bring some relaxed seasons and better bag limits for Georgia’s recreational offshore anglers. The goal would be to allow more flexibility to the federal folks when setting recreational seasons and bag limits for species like red snapper, grouper and cobia.
Several saltwater fishing leaders, including Spud Woodward, director of Georgia’s Coastal Resources Division, recently met with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in Soldotna, Alaska. The hearing was called the “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Oversight of Fisheries Management Successes and Challenges.”
The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) is the federal benchmark that’s been used when governing saltwater fisheries management for anglers outside of a state’s coastal waters. Georgia’s state waters end and federal waters begin 3 miles offshore. State waters are managed by DNR’s Coastal Resources Division.
For years, GON has heard from anglers who say the “feds” simply don’t have a good understanding of offshore fish populations or how to properly manage recreational limits and bag limits for those species. The biggest hurdle, or the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, in relaxing offshore recreational regulations appears to be the MSA.
“Our anglers are very frustrated with federal fishery management,” Woodward said when testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
“Five years of a red snapper harvest moratorium, and this year’s unprecedented closure of federal waters to the harvest of Atlantic migratory group cobia, have left those who fish the South Atlantic totally dismayed. Ditto the thousands of Georgians who fish the Gulf of Mexico for red snapper. To them, federal fishery management has become nonsensical and overly legalistic.”
Despite a need for an amendment, Woodward did reference several South Atlantic success stories—black sea bass, red porgy, king and Spanish mackerel, and protection of long-lived and slow-growing deep-water corals—from the MSA.
“However, in terms of management of recreational fishing, especially red snapper and cobia, we see the MSA as a failure. It is the position of DNR that changes must be made to improve management of marine recreational fishing through the MSA,” said Woodward.
Also testifying at the hearing was Liz Ogilvie, chief marketing officer for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). The ASA is a national trade association representing more than 800 fishing tackle manufacturers, distributors, retailers, media and other components of the industry who service the 47 million Americans who recreationally fish each year.
“While overfishing is now at an all-time low, in many fisheries that has not translated into improved fishing access for recreational fishermen,” said Ogilvie. “This is believed to be a result of a management system that fails to recognize that commercial and recreational fishing are fundamentally different activities.”
Ogilvie testified that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries is viewed by many in the recreational fishing community as an adversary.
“While efforts have been made in recent years to improve the dialogue between the agency and anglers and to better understand how to address concerns, anglers have seen little change in the agency’s actions and how they translate to fishing opportunities. Fairly or unfairly, the general perception among anglers is that NOAA Fisheries only understands and cares about commercial fishing, dating back to its roots as the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries,” said Ogilvie.
Hopefully, a brighter horizon is in the future for Georgia’s recreational offshore anglers.
In July, Congress introduced S.1520, the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017.” The bill was dropped by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Kennedy (R-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
A companion bill, H.R.2023, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 6, by Representatives Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).
“Since its original passage in 1976 and through subsequent reauthorizations, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has never focused specifically on addressing the unique challenges of federal saltwater recreational fisheries management,” said Ogilvie. “We hope Congress will use the current reauthorization process as an opportunity to address this historic inequity, and ASA believes passage of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act would be a tremendous step toward this goal.”
Woodward’s full written testimony can be found here.
Ogilvie’s full written testimony can be found here.