U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, joined panelists at the Kenai River Classic Roundtable in a discussion about recreational fishing and the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act on Wednesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Currently the MSA only addresses saltwater fishing in federal waters. While it provides a management process for commercial fishing, it lacks a focus on recreational fishing, said moderator Phil Dyskow, who serves on the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee and the board of directors for the Center for Coastal Conservation.
“What they’ve done is simply used the same policy developed for commercial fishing and applied it to recreational fishing,” he said.
The lack of a recreational policy has created “crisis conditions” throughout the nation, he said. In an effort to resolve the issues that have developed and balance the user groups, Dyskow said, a national recreational fishing policy needs to be developed. A broader understanding of the economic and social values must be seen and the reauthorized MSA needs to address recreational fishing, he said.
In Washington D.C., lawmakers have completed the second draft of the reauthorization of the MSA. Begich expressed optimism that congress would finish work on the MSA by the year’s end.
“I’m looking forward to trying to get this thing done before the end of the year,” Begich said. “It’s going to be tough … but we’re going to try to push.”
He said while more “tweaking” needs to be done with the second draft, it cleared up many issues from the first.
Murkowski said she doubts it will be possible to finish it this year. She wants it to be done correctly because lawmakers won’t get another chance at the act for a while.
“We’re not going to see passage of Magnuson-Stevens in this Congress,” she said. … “But what we can do, what we must do is use this time to develop the good strong policies going forward, so that we do have a balanced and a proportional Magnuson-Stevens that takes us well into the future.”
Both said it will be rapidly reintroduced in January if it doesn’t pass by the end of 2015.
“If we can get a better product because we have a national recreational policy incorporated into it, that might be the better course of action,” Murkowski said.
Panelist Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association, said developing a national recreational policy for saltwater anglers would establish goals, focus and direction. The MSA reauthorization gives the opportunity to move recreation forward, he said.
Nussman said in Washington D.C. many different policies are discussed; however, a recreation policy is not one of them. With the federal government being a large recreation provider, it is important to develop a policy to outline the opportunities, including the economic, social and conservation values that come from outdoor recreation, he said.
Begich said the economic value of recreational fishing is significant because along with dockside businesses benefiting, it drives people to spend money on fuel and lodging or camping during their trip to wherever they are fishing.
“We think one thing that would be very helpful would be for us as a Nation, for the Department of Commerce and (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to establish a national recreational policy for saltwater angler,” Nussman said.
An important part of the policy would be to recognize the differences between recreational and commercial fishing activities. Using the same policies to manage both groups doesn’t make sense, Nussman said.
“(The recreational fisheries issues) simply have not received the attention that they need, that they require, so this will be that opportunity with the reauthorization,” Murkowski said.
Ensuring a national recreational policy reinforces fishing with kids and young adults is an aspect Murkowski said she thinks is important to include.
Nussman agreed that it is an important issue to consider in constructing a policy.
“If we don’t introduce people to those natural resources so they understand and they know them and they care about them, I find it very difficult to believe that we’re going to put the priority on natural resources that we do now 25 years from now,” he said. “Fishing is one way to reach out to them.”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.