ASA: many policy challenges remain despite 2016 successes
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The American Sportfishing Association has highlighted its achievements in 2016 in a year that not only brought significant change within the US political system, but also within the nation’s recreational fishing policy arena.
“Throughout 2016, ASA’s members and staff met with members of Congress on Capitol Hill and in their home districts, to drive home the message that recreational fishing has a significant impact on our nation’s economy,” said ASA Government Affairs President, Scott Gudes. “I want to thank these members, along with our Government Affairs committee members, for working to help us accomplish our legislative goals and as we look towards 2017.”
ASA Conservation Director Mike Leonard added: “While we are pleased with these achievements, many policy challenges remain. Unfortunately, the third Congress in a row failed to pass the bipartisan and non-controversial Sportsmen’s Act.
“And while anglers are facing significant reductions in fishing seasons for important saltwater fisheries such as summer flounder, cobia and red snapper, Congress still needs to reauthorise and amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to rectify the problems with federal saltwater recreational fisheries management. These, and many other challenges, will be top priorities for ASA to address in 2017.”
Outdoor recreation finally got its overdue economic recognition in December when the outgoing President, Barack Obama, signed the Outdoor Recreation Economic Impact and Jobs Act of 2016 – the Outdoor REC Act – which instructs US statistical agencies, such as the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, to produce data and growth estimates for the outdoor recreational sector on a regular basis.
Currently, it is estimated that the outdoor recreational industry, including sportfishing and recreational boating, contributes approximately $646 billion to the US economy. This bill represents a significant step forward in getting recognition for the industry’s economic impact.
During December, the President also signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN), which authorises transportation, habitat and water projects across the nation. Many of these projects have been supported by the ASA. Foremost is the authorisation of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) to re-channel freshwater flows in South Florida and to restore the Everglades. The bill allows $1.95 billion for CEPP, with a 50/50 cost share between the federal government and the state.
The recreational fishing and boating community convinced the administration to differentiate public use from commercial extraction in marine waters. The result is that recreational fishing is an allowable activity in the new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, located approximately 150 miles off the Massachusetts coast. In a separate action, recreational fishing was also included in the vast expansion of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. In 2006, President George W. Bush created the monument with a 50-mile boundary which excluded recreational fishing. Non-commercial fishing, such as recreational fishing, is now permitted in the 200-mile expanded area.
In a landslide vote, Right to Hunt and Fish Constitutional Amendments were passed by Kansas and Indiana voters by 81 per cent and 78 per cent respectively. These amendments will provide permanent protections for Kansas and Indiana sportsmen and women from unwarranted closures and ensure that any laws regulating hunting and fishing are genuine conservation efforts based upon sound science. Twenty-one states now have the Right to Hunt and Fish and two more have the Right to Fish.
Starting as a local issue in Minnesota, the threat posed by a sulfide mine in the Boundary Waters watershed propelled this issue to national prominence in 2016. Sometimes called ‘the Yellowstone of the Midwest’, the Boundary Waters are an angler’s and boater’s paradise.
The ASA, along with its partners and members as well as Minnesota businesses and anglers and boaters, convinced the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to deny two mining leases in the area.
The decision also started a process to withdraw key portions of the watershed from new mining permits and leases. The ASA will continue to advocate during the public comment period in the coming months.
Last year, Congress passed a bill to exempt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using funds to regulate fishing tackle during 2017. The House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees that oversee this issue separately passed annual budget bills protecting recreational fishing equipment from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Over the past decade, several petitions have been made to the EPA to ban lead fishing tackle despite the fact that lead fishing tackle has never been documented to have a negative impact on fish and wildlife populations.
Last year, NOAA Fisheries released guidelines – strongly supported by ASA – that address many of the challenges that have dogged marine fisheries management over the last decade, largely due to requirements in the law and the agency’s interpretation of them.
The revised guidelines address many of the recommendations offered by ASA and others in the recreational fishing community: allowing changes to catch limits to be gradually phased in over up to three years as long as overfishing is prevented and increasing latitude in setting timelines for rebuilding programmes based on the biology of the fish stock.