In a Rare Moment of Bipartisanship, Industry and Environmental Groups Praise New Modern Fish Act

Photo Credit: Wikipedia https://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanti_tarpon

Adam Ares, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

            On December 31, 2018 the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018, also known as the Modern Fish Act (the Act), was signed into law by President Trump.[1] The Act has been hailed as a bipartisan achievement, bringing together recreational fishers, commercial fishers, and environmental groups.[2] The new legislation will focus on better recreational fisheries management and data collection to help improve the state of the nation’s recreational fisheries.[3] This article will focus on (1) the creation of the Act; (2) provide a summary of the new law; and (3) highlight the reactions across the fishing and environmental communities.

            The main proponents of the Modern Fish Act were the salt-water recreational fishing and boating communities.[4] Historically, recreational and commercial fisheries have been subject to the same regulations and have functionally been treated as the same.[5] However, The National Marine Manufacturers Association stated in a letter to Congress that “[r]ecreational and commercial fishing are fundamentally different endeavors and should be managed differently. Yet, antiquated, one-size-fits-all federal policies are unnecessarily limiting the public’s access to our nation’s abundant natural resources.”[6] They proposed the Modern Fish Act as a way to improve management efforts for recreational fisheries.[7] The Act is intended to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is a very successful law that has effectively halted overfishing and helped with the replenishment of depleted fish stocks.[8] However, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has not done much to improve the opportunities for recreational fisheries, largely due to a lack of recreational fishery data.[9] The Modern Fish Act is aimed at “provid[ing] fisheries managers with the tools needed to manage recreational fishing in a way that better aligns with what anglers are experiencing on the water, while also bringing angler harvest data into the 21st century.”[10] However, not everyone was initially on board for the Act. The Natural Resources Defense Council called it “a step backwards” in the conservation of the nation’s fisheries.[11]

            Despite the initial disagreements, Congress was able to put together a bill that passed with bipartisan support. The Act includes: allocation for review of South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico mixed-use fisheries[12]; a study of limited access privilege programs for mixed-use fisheries; and comprehensive data collection amongst all of the Regional Fishery Management Councils to be used for a biannual report on recreational marine fisheries.[13] Essentially, the new Act will allow for new data and management collection to “better meet the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act” and therefore allow for healthier recreational fisheries.[14]

            The response to the passage of the Modern Fish Act has been overwhelmingly positive. The American Sportfishing Association said that the Act “means more and better fishing for your customers – and that’s good news for everybody.”[15] Matt Tinning, Associate Vice President of the Oceans Program for the Environmental Defense Fund, provided in a statement, “We can all be proud to have reached agreement on a bill that responds to the demands of recreational fishing advocates without jeopardizing either sustainability or Americans’ access to local seafood.”[16] It is rare for a piece of legislation to have such universal support from both industry and environmental groups, and it is a testament to the hard work and effort that went into the Modern Fish Act.


[1] Meg Walburn Viviano, Modern Fish Act Signed into Law, Boosting Saltwater Fishing Access, Chesapeake Bay Magazine (Jan. 3, 2019), https://www.chesapeakebaymagazine.com/baybulletin/2019/1/3/federal-modern-fish-act-signed-into-law.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] The National Marine Manufacturers Association, Boating Coalition Urges Congress to Pass Modern Fish Act, Boating Industry (Nov. 20, 2018), https://boatingindustry.com/news/2018/11/20/boating-coalition-urges-congress-to-pass-modern-fish-act/.

[5] Michael Leonard, Modern Fishing Act Offers Hope, Sport Fishing Magazine (July 23, 2018), https://www.sportfishingmag.com/modern-fish-act-offers-hope.

[6] The National Marine Manufacturers Association, supra, note 4.

[7] Id.

[8] Leonard, supra, note 5.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Molly Masterton, Everyone Who Fishes Should be Accountable, Natural Resources Defense Council, (Mar. 7, 2018), https://www.nrdc.org/experts/molly-masterton/accountability-should-be-everyone-who-fishes.

[12] A mixed-use fishery is defined in the Act as “a Federal fishery in which 2 or more of the following occur: (A) Recreational fishing. (B) Charter fishing. (C) Commercial fishing.” Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018, Sec. 3 (4) (Dec. 31, 2018).

[13] Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018.

[14] Leonard, supra, note 7.

[15] Modern Fish Act, American Sportfishing Association, https://asafishing.org/advocacy_and_policy/advocacy/modern-fish-act/.

[16] U.S. Senate Advances “Modern Fish Act,” Environmental Defense Fund (Dec. 17, 2018), https://www.edf.org/media/us-senate-advances-modern-fish-act.

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