Recreational saltwater fishing policy in the works

The National Marine Fisheries Service is working on a draft policy that could incorporate more consideration of marine recreational fishing in management actions.

The agency, or NMFS, has released four draft goals for a new national saltwater recreational fisheries policy. An October hearing is planned to get input from Alaskans.

According to information from NMFS, the recreational fishing policy will provide values to guide fishery management decisions made under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

According to a statement from NMFS, “The effort is about better understanding angler needs, better tailoring our programs and services, and empowering anglers to be responsible stewards.”

In Alaska, marine recreational fishing generated 4,824 jobs, $213 million in income impacts, $558 million in sales impacts and $337 million in value-added impacts in 2012, according to the most recent fisheries economics report produced by NMFS.

That doesn’t reflect the full recreational sector though, as it looks only at durable equipment, for-hire trips, private boat trips and shore trips for the marine recreational sector.

The draft goals look at fostering and enhancing recreational and non-commercial fisheries and public access; integrating saltwater recreational and non-commercial considerations throughout the federal marine fisheries management system; encouraging partnership, engagement and innovation; and enhancing transparency, follow-through and continuity.

In a document on the draft goals, the agency suggested better communication, cooperative research and long-term funding for recreational programs as possible ways to accomplish the latter two goals.

The effort to develop a plan has been supported by the recreational industry.

Both Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease and SouthEast Alaska Guides Organization Executive Director Heath Hilyard said they support the work the agency is doing to develop a plan.

“I think elevating the issue to have a national policy is important,” Gease said.

The recreational sector released its own report on saltwater recreational fisheries in the spring, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” which included a call for a national policy such as the one being developed.

Gease said that the issue was raised to new NMFS administrator Eileen Sobeck in April at the National Recreational Sportfishing Summit, with the industry suggesting that a plan could help with policy guidance.

“She agreed that that would be a good thing for NMFS to have,” Gease said.

According to Gease, the Department of the Interior has a national freshwater fishing policy, and the new NMFS policy could serve as the marine parallel. 

The new policy also could inform future iterations of the regional action agendas that guide the agency’s work in marine recreational fisheries.

The Alaska agenda for 2014-15 outlines several goals for recreational fisheries and the specific projects that can help — including research and habitat projects, trip-planning tools for recreational anglers, data collection and others.

In Alaska, the new policy likely wouldn’t have a major impact on recreational fisheries management, because that’s done largely by the state, not the feds.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council member Ed Dersham said the policy would still signal an important focus on recreational fishing, however.

“For NOAA Fisheries to put a heightened priority on recreational fisheries nationwide, that would be a good thing,” Dersham said.

Dersham said that the only federally managed recreational fishery is the halibut fishery, but that’s managed under the Halibut Act, not Magnuson-Stevens.

However, Dersham said the recreational sector also would like to see NMFS devote a staff member to recreational fishing

The agency formerly had such an employee, but has not filled the position in recent years, he said.

“It would be a great thing if NMFS would put somebody back in a position to deal with recreational fishermen in Alaska,” Dersham said.

Gease said that while marine salmon fishing likely wouldn’t change or be impacted by the policy, it could lead to more cooperative agreements between state and federal managers, including funding for research.

More of a focus on the limiting factors for salmon out in the ocean, and the mortality bottlenecks for king salmon especially, would be helpful, Gease said.

He noted that the state is working on salmon research, but a federal focus on the marine side would be beneficial.

Hilyard said the policy also could result in more information collection about marine recreational fishing. He said “a true and thorough economic valuation of the recreational fishery, just in general and also in comparison to the commercial fisheries,” would be beneficial.

Gease and Hilyard both said that the new policy appears to be part of a general trend toward more of a focus on marine rec fisheries by the agency.

Gease said that trend really started with the first National Recreational Sportfishing Summit in 2010. One of the recommendations was a national office of NMFS looking at sportfishing, which the agency has developed.

Gease said that many of the recommendations from that meeting were implemented, and now the agency is working to implement the recommendations from the second summit, held this year.

Comments on the draft policy are due Sept. 12, with meetings planned throughout the nation this summer. Alaskans will have another chance to discuss it in October, when federal staff visits Anchorage for a meeting that will be scheduled in conjunction with the regular North Pacific council meeting planned for that month, according to NPFMC Executive Director Chris Oliver.

The council meets Oct. 8-14, but an exact time for the recreational fishing session has not yet been scheduled, although it will likely occur one evening. Dersham said the October timeframe was chosen instead of August as a way to try and get as much participation from the charter sector as possible.

A webinar on the draft policy is scheduled for July 28.

Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce. She can be reached at