From now until the end of the year, saltwater recreational anglers have an opportunity to influence the management practices employed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as it works to update the National Recreational Fisheries Policy of saltwater.
It is especially important that recreational anglers take the time to reach out during this process, in large part because NOAA and its fisheries biologists seem genuinely interested in what we have to say. NOAA even sent a high-level delegation to the American Fly Fishing Trade Association’s dealer summit in South Carolina in October to discuss ocean recreational fishing directly with anglers, and the agency took held several outreach events during the summer and fall in hopes of getting recreational anglers to participate. The federal agency charged with managing ocean recreational fisheries clearly has its ears out: It wants to hear from recreational anglers about managing fisheries for everything from bass to walleye and everything in between.
But time is short. The comment period ends on December 31
NOAA is updating its National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy that was last updated in 2015, and while the existing policy addresses some of the biggest challenges facing our recreational fish stocks, it does not he gets to address others. Over the next four weeks or so, recreational anglers have an opportunity to have an outsized impact on how our recreational fisheries are managed for years to come.
But where do we start? Well, here’s a quick introduction, and first we should address the elephant in the room.
No issue presents a greater challenge to recreational saltwater fishing than climate change. If we cannot control the impacts on our fisheries of climate change and its associated stressors (think reduced migration range, red tide fish kills, unnatural and explosive blooms of sargassum and general loss of fish habitat), a policy update may not be necessary in a decade. Any recreational angler who blindly and stubbornly ignores climate change and the threats it poses to saltwater fisheries is deliberately working against their own interests. The first and most important message delivered to NOAA during this comment period should focus on climate change and what can be done to make our recreational fisheries more resilient to its impacts. As it stands, there is no mention of addressing climate change in NOAA’s existing policy statement. Any new policy must be crafted with a warming world as an overarching theme.
Which brings us to science. NOAA should be considered the “umbrella” agency when it comes to the management of recreational fisheries in our oceans. There are state agencies and regional fisheries management committees up and down our coasts, but NOAA’s Saltwater Recreational Fishing Policy should be the guide for all other agencies that manage fisheries important to recreational anglers. , and that guide should be science, not politics. If you want to see how politics works in fisheries management, look no further than the management of East Coast striped bass and the yo-yo effect on fish stocks due to political efforts made to please the fishing industry commercial The same could be said for West Coast groundfish management. Managing our recreational fisheries for sustainability, not political prestige, should be one of NOAA’s highest priorities, and that means science must lead the way.
Data from the fisherman
NOAA needs to invest in more and better data collection so it can stand on solid ground when it comes to weather change management policies for any given fishery. And frankly, it’s time for recreational anglers to look in the mirror and maybe practice some introspection. If and when you comment on this policy rewrite, please encourage NOAA to hold the recreational fishing community accountable in the effort to collect usable data that can be used to better manage the fisheries we care about. We all have the ability, even anecdotally, to share the information we gather when fishing. It’s not too much to ask, especially of fishermen who harvest fish from the sea, to send reports and data to NOAA so the agency can be more agile and manage the sustainability of our fisheries. Currently, the Marine Recreational Information Program provides a federal-regional-state “mechanism” for collecting data, but it is bulky and largely inaccessible to everyday recreational anglers. Improving this program and providing an easy and user-friendly interface for anglers to provide same-day data from saltwater fishing trips is a great way to turn the average angler into a useful citizen scientist.
We have a generational opportunity over the next month or so to influence the management of recreational fisheries. Please take the time to share your concerns with NOAA and make sure your voice is heard. As fishermen, we are part of a huge economic sector that includes everything from boat builders, gear and equipment manufacturers, goods designers, commercial establishments, destination communities, accommodation establishments and the like. Ensuring our saltwater fisheries are healthy and productive goes beyond the success we, as anglers, experience when a striper hits a fly or when a redfish takes a bait. Good fishing translates into healthy coastal economies.
This is our chance to have a real influence on the fisheries that are so important to us and the millions of anglers who fish in saltwater. Please take a few minutes and send your thoughts to NOAA. To its credit, the agency is actively seeking your input. It’s time we do our part and let our fisheries managers know how important our fish and our fisheries are to us.