There is a new threat to sportfishing in the United States—the banning of recreational fishing in coastal waters as a means to manage fish populations.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were originally intended to restrict the serious impacts of commercial fishing on a few species. But, MPAs have been expanded to now include restricting low impact recreational fishing on all species. The establishment of MPAs is leading increasingly to the creation of no-fishing zones, which result in significant permanent closures for recreational saltwater fishing.
This is possibly one of the most significant threats to the future of sportfishing. Banning sportfishing is an unprecedented step and runs counter to the proven methods of fisheries conservation management that have served recreational anglers well for decades.
The MPA precedent for widespread North American recreational fishing closures has its origins in California coastal waters under state jurisdiction, extending to the three mile limit. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 2003 and resulted in 175 square miles of closures to sportfishing. No fishing zones in the Channel Islands could cost California's economy over $100 million in direct expenditures and up to 2,700 jobs. Additionally, the state’s Marine Life Protection Act has already closed 85 square miles of California central coast waters to anglers, and implementation is just beginning. Although California is at the forefront of using closures as the “new fishery science,” other coastal areas are also being pressed to consider the same measures.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Protected Areas Center has also weighed in, recently publishing a ‘Draft Framework for Developing the National System of Marine Protected Areas’ (Draft). The most glaring omission in the Draft is the issue of access to and use of marine resources within an MPA. The Draft currently does not require that national MPAs be designated through a balanced process that takes the interests of the sportfishing community into consideration. There is also an attempt to overrule the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, under which substantial gains for sustainable fisheries have been achieved. Through this Act, many fish stocks are on the road to recovery.
The Sportfishing Community’s Position
There is a fundamental difference between a family enjoying a day's fishing and a commercial fishing crew fishing for profit. This point is often overlooked by those who advocate for no-fishing zones. Conservation organizations, angler groups, the sportfishing industry and others strongly support both conserving our fish and waters while protecting the public's right to access all areas along our nation's coastlines and to enjoy the sport of fishing. These two concepts are compatible.
Many current proposals to restrict recreational fishing are not based on sound scientific evidence. Every angler on the water today is governed by a strict set of regulations that have been proven to conserve fish and their habitats.
Occasionally these regulations do include well-defined, scientifically-based closed areas which are supported by anglers. However, the angling community is not likely to support no-fishing zones when other less drastic, yet equally effective options are available. These bans on fishing not only adversely affect the recreation of 13 million saltwater anglers and their families, but also have significant economic impacts on businesses and communities that depend on recreation and tourism.
The sportfishing community is developing a program to achieve greater balance in the process of closure designation, including better consideration of the science, and a more balanced and thoughtful approach so that sportfishing prohibitions are limited to areas in which they are clearly beneficial to the health of the fishery.
Learn more about how you can keep America fishing: KeepAmericaFishing.org.