On Wednesday, July 11, the United States House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. As we’ve written on a number of occasions, H.R. 200 is a bad bill, legislation that, if it becomes law, would substantially weaken the conservation and stock rebuilding provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens) by, among other things, allowing overfishing to continue for extended periods and substantially delaying the rebuilding of overfished stocks.
Recently, the debate over H.R. 200 has become confused by various anglers’ rights, fishing tackle industry, and boating industry groups referring to it as the “Modern Fish Act” and urging its passage. Such calls are deceptive. The House version of the Modern Fish Act is H.R. 2023, a bill that is currently stalled in committee. While H.R. 2023 is, in itself, a problematic bill that is not worthy of anglers’ support, it is relatively limited in scope. H.R. 200 proposes a far broader rewrite of Magnuson-Stevens, which poses a far greater threat to America’s fisheries. The fact that some of the language of H.R. 2023 was added to H.R. 200 does not make H.R. 200 a good bill; H.R. 200 remains a bad bill, but a bad bill to which additional problematic provisions have been added.
Therefore, anglers shouldn’t be misled by the current public relations push for H.R. 200’s passage. H.R. 200 is virtually the same bill that, as H.R. 1335, died after House passage three years ago and, as H.R. 4742, never even made it onto the House floor, because of the harm it would do. H.R. 200 has been modified just a little with the addition of Modern Fish Act provisions, but those provisions just make the bill worse, and not better.
And H.R. 200 may become worse before it is voted on.
The House Rules Committee voted to allow eleven amendments to the bill. Striped bass anglers will be dismayed to learn that one of those amendments, offered by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-New York), would allow striped bass fishing in federal waters around Block Island, and thus allow more harvest at a time when the bass population is hovering just above the threshold that determines an overfished stock.
Another amendment would create a “pilot research trawl survey” that would employ commercial fishermen in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions to collect data that is intended to challenge or, to use the language of the bill, “enhance and provide improvements to” the data collected by National Marine Fisheries Service scientists. Others would relieve four southeastern states of their obligation to avoid or mitigate damage to aquatic vegetation caused when the states dredge navigation channels, and seek ways for the Treasury Department to impose a “resource rent” on commercial fishermen participating in catch share programs in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, even though such catch share programs have proven to be one of the most effective ways to end the overharvest of southern reef fish.
H.R. 200 is clearly not in the long-term interests of either U.S. fish stocks or U.S. fishermen, but given the all of the money and effort being expended by its supporters, there is a very good chance that it will pass.
Thus, we’re asking Fissues readers to help us make one last effort to kill the bill. Please contact your House representative, and ask him or her to vote against H.R. 200. Explain that America’s recreational and commercial fishermen rely on healthy, abundant fish stocks, and that H.R. 200’s provisions, which allow overfishing and delay the rebuilding of overfished stocks, are contrary to fishermen’s interests—which, when you come right down to it, are America’s interests, too.