Some don't like it, but bag limits keep our fisheries sustainable

February 15, 2014 

As an avid fisherman, the Miami International Boat Show, which opened Thursday and runs through Monday, is an annual pilgrimage. This year I will be tearing my daughter away from her PlayStation long enough to accompany me.

She's started to enjoy fishing with me and, once there, I think she'll share my amazement at the size of the crowd of fellow anglers testing out the latest electronic gadgetry in pursuit of gaining ever-greater efficiency in catching more fish.

The boat show, as enjoyable as it is, underscores the strength of two unprecedented pressures placed on our fisheries: Ever-growing coastal populations and new technologies that ease the search for fish. These are long-standing pressures. We've all struggled with the consequences.

So I am shocked that U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) is proposing a draft bill he calls the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. In one stroke, this bill would gut one of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act's most successful conservation provisions - annual catch limits.

In many of my daughter's favorite video games, she is awarded a set number of credits that she must manage to grow in her game world. Annual catch limits work much the same way for fish.

The ocean has only so many newly spawned fish each year. Unlike my daughter's game where she can simply start over, when annual catch limits are exceeded, our fisheries do not have a reset button, which means fishery populations face the real threat of depletion. This is proven science.

There is no denying that annual catch limits have been painful for anglers, but there is also no denying that they are good laws that should not be gutted just as they are showing success. I witnessed the roller-coaster ride of a species in decline before managers agreed to set sustainable fishing levels for grouper, which resulted in shorter seasons or full closures until the population rebuilt.

If managers had been proactive, setting science-based annual catch limits and the accountability measures to enforce them before the species was in full decline, we anglers would not have to wait as fishery managers fumbled for the reset button and forced us to wait for nature to run its course and the stocks to replenish.

Anglers worth their salt understand we're all stewards of the sea. And with stewardship comes responsibility. Our nation once took great pride in willingly enduring self-sacrifices now to protect the future of resources that belong to our children as much as ourselves.

The ocean isn't a limitless resource. Yes, it's resilient. But only with proper care and management.

I am teaching my daughter to respect the rules resource managers set to ensure good fishing tomorrow, even if they sting today. Congress would teach her a very different lesson if it tampers with the Magnuson-Stevens Act as the House draft bill proposes. Our leaders in Congress, I would have to explain to her, misunderstand what must be done to ensure good fishing for the present and the future.

When the Magnuson-Steven Act was last reauthorized in 2007, Congress took great strides to end overfishing. The maxim then was as true as it is today: Overusing public trust marine resources weakens fishing communities. It's toying with my daughter's fishing future. And it violates responsible stewardship.

This is simple stuff. A child can understand it. Congress once did, too, as the Magnuson-Stevens Act proves. Let's hope it hasn't forgotten.

David Moss of Davie in Broward County represents recreational fishing interests on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel.

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