Cassidy-Rubio bill will safeguard state fisheries management authority

Washington, D.C. – A coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations praised the introduction of a bill, S.2807, that will safeguard the role of state fisheries management agencies and help prevent unwarranted fishing closures like what recently occurred at Biscayne National Park. Led by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act” requires the National Park Service to have approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before closing state marine or Great Lakes waters to recreational or commercial fishing.

“Given the significant economic, social and conservation benefits that recreational fishing provides to the nation, any decision to close or restrict public access should be based on sound science and strong management principles,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “While closed areas have a role in fisheries management, they should only come after legitimate consideration of all possible options and agreement among management agencies. This bill, which is strongly supported by the recreational fishing industry, will ensure that the voice of state fisheries agencies is not lost in these decisions.”

Legislation similar to S.2807 has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act. The original House bill, H.R. 3310, is led by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and 35 other sponsors.

“State fish and wildlife agencies have a strong track record of sustainable fisheries management that provides for ample fishing opportunities,” said Patrick Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association. “This legislation will ensure that the states’ authority to manage state fishery resources is maintained, and will provide a backstop against poorly developed fishing closures that would only serve to deter fishing participation.”

A decision by the National Park Service in 2015 to implement a 10,000-acre marine reserve in one of the nation’s most popular urban fishing areas just outside of Miami, Fla., sparked significant opposition from the recreational fishing and boating community. Prior to that decision, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continually expressed its position that the proposed marine reserve is overly restrictive to the public; will not be biologically effective; and that less restrictive management tools can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and conserve habitat.

The recreational fishing and boating community echoed these concerns, but nevertheless the National Park Service ultimately elected to close nearly 40 percent of Biscayne National Park’s reef tract to fishing. The National Park Service’s decision to ignore the input of the state and force new fisheries regulations in states waters revealed a loophole in current law that could affect any state with coastal or Great Lakes waters that are managed by the National Park Service. This has prompted Congressional action to safeguard the ability of states to regulate fishing in state waters.

“The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) applauds the introduction of the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act in the Senate and the efforts of Sens. Cassidy and Rubio to ensure robust access for boaters and anglers in U.S. National Parks,” said NMMA President Thom Dammrich. “This legislation would require cooperative decision making on fisheries policies in state waters, something that was lacking during the development of the Biscayne National Park general management plan. The boating industry continues to advocate for a balanced approach to access and conservation, cooperation amongst stakeholder groups and open dialogue during National Park management planning. We appreciate the Senators’ efforts to support these same goals.”

“It’s only logical that any decision affecting fishing access in state waters should have the approval of that state’s fish and wildlife agency,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “We applaud Sens. Cassidy and Rubio for introducing this common-sense legislation, and urge other members of the Senate to co-sponsor and help ensure this bill’s passage.”