Magnuson-Stevens Act under attack in Congress

By Justin Bloom
Guest Columnist

What is more American than baseball and apple pie? Fishing. In Florida, we celebrate our holidays by going to the beach, picnicking, boating and fishing. Therefore, as we celebrate our country’s birthday, we should be celebrating and preserving our natural resources, which are so much a part of our heritage.

Unfortunately, Congress has plans that could interfere with our joy when it comes to fishing in the future. While we are enjoying our fresh-caught grouper or snapper, members of Congress are trying to pass a bill that would severely impair the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), our nation’s premier fisheries management law. This is the law that gives our regional fisheries managers the tools they need to  protect our fish populations. In fact, after being updated in 2006, the MSA is the reason red snapper and grouper are bouncing back. It is the reason we can continue to take our kids out with us to catch those fish and then bring the fish home and eat them together. What is more American than that?

But Congress is planning to bring HR 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, to the floor for a vote as early as Wednesday, July 11. Do not let the bill’s name fool you. If passed, this bill would roll back effective management of many species. It also includes exemptions for establishing reasonable timelines for rebuilding fish populations. All in all, it essentially guts the MSA of its critical and successful conservation provisions.

It really does not make any sense or cents. A healthy ocean teeming with fish drives our state economy, which, in turn, contributes to  America’s economy. The recreational fishing industry generates money from tackle, reels, boats, charter trips and so on. The commercial industry supports our restaurants and seafood suppliers while providing us all the ability to put fresh fish on our own kitchen tables. Healthy fish populations are also critical to our environment and to sustaining populations for future generations, so that our kids can tell their kids even taller fishing tales than I told my children. 

This week, I have been eating apple (and some key lime) pie and getting out on the water. I hoped to catch a few fish. I also hope that Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Rep. Kathy Castor, Rep. Charlie Crist and Rep. Vern Buchanan enjoyed their July Fourth — perhaps even taking some time to reflect on our coastal way of life and the need to protect it. I hope they will vote ‘No’ on HR 200.

That would be a nice post-July Fourth gift for not only Floridians but also for all other Americans.

(Justin Bloom, an attorney, is executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, a member nonprofit of the Waterkeeper Alliance.)