New bills will help recreational fishermen, Sen. Roger Wicker says

Fishermen try their luck in the Biloxi Bay in 2010.
Fishermen try their luck in the Biloxi Bay in 2010. Sun Herald File

Sen. Roger Wicker is sponsoring two bipartisan bills aimed at giving recreational fishermen a a fairer deal from federal fisheries regulations.

Wicker’s office in a press release said the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act would:

▪ Direct the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils to review allocation of recreational-commercial fisheries every 5 years;

▪  the National Academy of Sciences to review Limited Access Privilege Programs to ensure they are fair and effective;

▪ Prevent annual catch limits for noncommercial anglers from decreasing unreasonably in data-poor fisheries;

▪ Expand oversight of exempted fishing permits to ensure they meet conservation goals; and

▪ Codify flexible rebuilding timelines for long-lived species.

“For too long, Mississippi’s fishermen have been dealing with government policies based on bad data,” said Wicker, a senior member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “This legislation would be an important first step to modernize the federal fishing policies on the Gulf Coast and preserve access to Mississippi’s bountiful fishing resources for years to come.”

The act also would encourage regional fishery management councils to update their policies for recreational anglers that access mixed-use fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. Current guidelines for commercial fishing operations prove difficult to implement for recreational anglers and severely restrict fishing seasons for these individuals, Wicker’s office said. The legislation also would encourage the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop partnerships that improve its recreational fishing data collection and work to incorporate non-federal data, which is often better than traditional data streams.

This bill is cosponsored by Senators Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., John Kennedy, R-La., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

Wicker has repeatedly supported better ocean data collection policies in the Gulf. Last month, Wicker reintroduced legislation with U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to reauthorize the Integrated Coastal Ocean Observing System Act. This system collects data to support national defense, search-and-rescue operations, marine commerce, navigation safety, weather, energy siting and production, economic development, and coastal ecosystem management. The IOOS network comprises 17 federal agencies and 11 regional associations that engage the public and private sectors to design and operate information-gathering systems. The bill was approved by the Senate during the last Congress.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton