Opinion: New fisheries policy good for oceans, sportfishing

In 1976, U.S. Senators Warren Magnuson and Ted Stevens led the development and passage of the nation’s primary marine fisheries management law. The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (MSA) was designed to protect marine species and the rights of recreational anglers by stopping the over-harvesting of our oceans by the commercial fishing industry. Congress is currently deliberating the third reauthorization and revision of MSA, the first since 2007.

Because current MSA interpretations forced rules designed for the commercial fishing industry to recreational fishing, American families were not allowed to fish for cobia in federal waters during 2017. Recent data shows cobia are neither overfished nor undergoing overfishing. In another example, recreational rod and reel fishing for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic has been severely restricted for almost a decade as part of an effort to end over-harvesting that predominately occurs from the winches and longlines of the commercial fishing industry.

It’s situations like these that have prompted those who participate in recreational fishing to advocate for reasonable, bipartisan modifications to MSA. If the newest MSA reauthorization is adopted, members of regional fishery management councils and marine science advisors will use the best available science and data to balance conservation policies with those that protect recreational access, giving regional councils more flexibility to address the unique needs of fisheries within their jurisdictions.

This fix, as many things in Washington, should be simple. However, these days there is a lucrative industry whose business model is to confuse the public and attack, destroy, and hold ransom anyone with a differing opinion.

For example, in recent weeks, an activist group called Mighty Earth has attacked the manufacturer Yamaha from amongst the diverse marine industry. Mighty Earth claims Yamaha is putting profit above the environment by using its dollars to support modifications to MSA to sell more outboard engines to recreational anglers.

For the record, Yamaha spends significant energy and resources on corporate social responsibility, sponsoring the Yamaha Marine Plastics Initiative which aims to reduce the amount of plastics in our coastal and ocean waters. Yamaha also supports and advocates for the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act to phase out the use of indiscriminate mile-long, large-mesh drift nets in our oceans.

Yet still, Mighty Earth attacks Yamaha and says MSA must be protected as-is because “the United States benefits from one of the most sustained and profitable fisheries management systems in the world.” Profitable for who? What type of “environmental steward” advocates for protecting the monopoly the commercial fishing corporations have on a public resource? Surely, an environmentally-focused group must know that miles of longlines with thousands of hooks pillaging our ocean’s spawning areas causes more harm to our nation’s fisheries than anything you can buy at Bass Pro Shop.

I expect my colleagues in Congress will continue the tradition of bipartisan collaboration with regards to the future of our public resources and access for recreational activities. As this debate continues, I hope people will see through the claims of advocacy groups who are working to protect the monopoly of the commercial fishing corporations at the expense of our oceans, local economies, and the American sportsmen.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, represents Georgia’s 8th Congressional District. He is House Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.