Bill would protect fisheries from closures

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate last week by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), supporters claim, would prevent unnecessary closures of important recreational fisheries in saltwater.

The proposal, S.3594, or the Fishery Conservation Transition Act, would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) to strengthen requirements that federal marine fisheries managers complete data collection and other research prior to closing fisheries.

"Saltwater anglers have been under assault recently," BASS Conservation Director Chris Horton said. "Vast areas off the California coast are closed to recreational fishing, and fisheries off the Atlantic seaboard are erroneously being closed because of the recent provisions passed in the latest reauthorization of the MSA.

"And on top of that, there is the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has resulted in the closure of 40 percent of the Gulf to fishing."

Horton said Nelson's bill would make sure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) does not close important fisheries without the data and scientific research to support the decisions.

When the Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized in 2006, it set deadlines for ensuring that saltwater species are not overfished. Horton referred to the current red snapper closure as an example of a decision made hastily and without sufficient science to support it, due to strict deadlines in the current MSA.

"NOAA Fisheries has since done little to prepare for the deadlines by which to end overfishing," Horton said. "Those deadlines are upon us, and without the necessary data, the agency's fallback position is to close fisheries. That's not fisheries management — it's crisis management."

In introducing the bill, Nelson noted that recreational anglers are among the most ardent conservationists.

"Being a native Floridian," he said, "I know that many people develop a love for the ocean and a desire to protect it after they truly experience it by swimming, fishing off their boat, or listening to the waves. This access is a necessary component of conservation because the public gains a sense of ownership, and this leads to a sense of responsibility."