Modernizing Fishery Management: Is the Debating Getting Old?

Some say federal fisheries need to be updated, but others argue current proposals won’t get us there.

NATIONWIDE — The Modern Fish Act, depending upon who you ask, is either a significant boost to the country’s recreational fishing population or is about as “modern” as the typewriter or fax machine.

Two bills are floating around in Washington, D.C., both angling modernize the management of recreational fisheries nationwide. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) proposed House Resolution 2023 (H.R. 2023) in April 2017, in hopes of addressing challenges anglers face when dealing with federal fisheries management. This bill is commonly referred to as the Modern Fish Act.

House Resolution 200 (H.R. 200) was introduced a few months earlier with the intent of updating the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA. The act governs the management of marine fisheries in federal waters.

H.R. 200, which was introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) in January 2017, cleared a House committee a few days before the start of 2018. Young, who authored the original MSA in 1976, positioned his recent proposal as providing fisheries managers with flexibility to manage stocks according to regional needs. The MSA, according to background provided by Young’s staff, has been riddled with improper science and poor management decisions since its 2006 reauthorization.

Graves’ proposal, meanwhile, specifically seeks “to modernize recreational fisheries management.”

A statement issued by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) shortly after H.R. 2023 was proposed stated current federal laws don’t favor the nation’s anglers.

“The current federal laws have never properly addressed the importance of recreational fishing. This has led to shortened or even cancelled seasons, reduced bag limits, and unnecessary restrictions – none of which is good news for the recreational fishing industry,” ASA staff said in a published statement.

Passage of The Modern Fishing Act would improve access for anglers while conserving natural resources, ASA staff continued.

The Center for Sportfishing Policy (CSP) issued a similar statement for H.R. 200.

“This legislation addresses many of the challenges faced by recreational anglers, including allowing alternative management tools for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations and improving recreational data collection,” the CSP statement, issued in December 2017, read. “The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science and technology to guide decision-making.”

Attempts to update the MSA, be it through H.R. 200 or H.R. 2023, are not necessarily championed by everyone on the water. Some claim the legislative campaigns do not benefit anglers or marine life.

A blog post on the Marine Fish Conservation Network stated The Modern Fish Act would actually open the door to overfishing.

Proponents of the Modern Fish Act feel that such precautionary management is unfair and needlessly restricts access to fishery resources. But the ‘solutions’ offered up in this bill are not good ones. They are considerably worse than the problems they are trying to address, as they will undoubtedly increase the risk of overfishing,” John McMurray said in his blog post, which was published Dec. 14, 2017. “I’d take it a step further to say they will, in most cases, result in chronic overfishing and a decrease in fish abundance.”

Another blog post published by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) also questioned whether the push to update the MSA would actually create more confusion in fishery management.

“H.R. 2023 would amend the MSA to make clear … ‘recreational fishing and commercial fishing are fundamentally different activities, therefore requiring management approaches adapted to the characteristics of each sector,’” Monica Goldberg, an environmental attorney with EDF, wrote in her April 27, 2017 blog.

Ending overfishing has already been a goal of fisheries management since the passage of the MSA in 1976, according to Goldberg. She added regulators already have the authority under current laws to pursue alternative management measures for commercial and recreational fisheries when developing fishery management plans.

“It is abundantly clear that (1) recreational and commercial fishing are different undertakings and (2) managers can and do use different methods to regulate them,” Goldberg continued. “But under current law those different approaches play out under the auspices of sustainable quotas that form a backstop against overfishing. H.R. 2023 would remove those safeguards, exempting every fishery … [federal officials determine] is not subject to overfishing.”

Advocates on both sides of the issue are certainly vocal in presenting their respective positions. Where do the politics end and the merits of whether the Modern Fish Act is sound policy begin?

Pietro Parravano of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations tried to put the issue into perspective.

“The regional council process has been fraught with conflict. The intent of providing regional input into federal fisheries management has been subverted in a number of ways.

State fishery managers, jealous of their turf, often act to prevent councils from taking actions to help a fishery where such an action might conflict with a state administration’s policy,” Parravano wrote in an article, “Challenges Facing the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry.”

“The public members are often financially conflicted and too often are association heads, lawyers or executive directors, instead of commercial or sport fishing men and women with ‘on-the-grounds’ experience,” he continued.

He added subsidized fishing operations and short-term profits, instead of sustainability, often motivate policy positions.

“Overfishing is a problem around the world and much of it is coming from government-subsidized fishing operations, most notably large trawl and factory trawl operations,” Parravano wrote. “Most of the large trawl and factory trawl operations are owned or controlled by corporations where the driving force is short term profits – satisfying shareholder demands for maximum quarterly dividends – rather than long term sustainability.”



So what do we make of The Modern Fishing Act, H.R. 200 and the future of Magnuson-Stevens? Are current attempts to update fishery management policy truly a benefit for recreational fishing interests? Is The Modern Fishing Act actually bad news for federal fishery management? What are the underlying interests of those advocating for and against the federal proposals?

Here are a few people you can reach out to if you seek to continue the conversation and, ultimately, find answers about the true intents of H.R 200 and H.R. 2023.


Rep. Garret Graves


Twitter: @RepGarretGraves


Rep. Don Young


Twitter: @RepDonYoung


Center for Sportfishing Policy



American Sportfishing Association



Marine Fish Conservation Network

Twitter: @MarineFishCons


John McMurray

One More Cast Charters (New York)



Environmental Defense Fund

Phoebe Higgins, Director, California Fisheries Fund



California Sportfishing League

Marko Mlikotin, Executive Director


Twitter: @SaveFishing


Fish and Game Commission

Valerie Termini, Executive Director



California State Parks, Division of Boating and Waterways

Lynn Sadler, Deputy Director




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