The National Ocean Policy Will Help Fishermen

Today the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs is holding a hearing entitled “Empty Hooks: The National Ocean Policy is the Latest Threat to Access for Recreational and Commercial Fishermen.” Unfortunately, the title of this hearing is highly misleading. The National Ocean Policy will help fishermen by ensuring important fishing grounds are protected from pollution and habitat destruction, making fishing a viable livelihood today and into the future. 

Shortly before the National Ocean Policy was established, a firestorm broke out when a columnist for spread the unfounded rumor that the policy would close off large swaths of the ocean to fishing. Almost immediately, columnists from around the country proclaimed that President Obama was trying to ban fishing, except the rumor was false. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association issued a response stating in no uncertain terms “The Ocean Policy Task Force has not recommended a ban on recreational fishing.” ESPN, after severe criticism from other outdoor columnists, ran a clarification that it was an opinion piece.

The truth is the National Ocean Policy will be GOOD for fishing. Agencies are tasked with helping preserve and restore important fish habitat, not to ban or curtail recreational fishing. Comprehensive ocean planning helps us address various stressors on fish populations – from habitat loss to pollution – in a comprehensive manner and puts fishermen at the table so that their voice is heard at the start of the planning process. 

The National Ocean Policy is a landmark policy that calls on us to evaluate all of the uses of the ocean –fishing, tourism, industry, military, energy – and identify how to manage these uses more sustainably. Instead of the current first-come, first-served approach to using our ocean waters, it calls for the development of regional ocean plans that would benefit us all.

The facts are:

  • The National Ocean Policy’s development benefitted from a robust stakeholder engagement process, which included hundreds of recreational and commercial fishermen and the organized sportfishing lobbies. 
  • A representative from the Regional Fishery Management Councils (the federal-state bodies tasked with developing fisheries policies) will have a formal role in developing the relevant regional ocean plans. This is in addition to the impact that fishermen will continue to have through stakeholder and public engagement.
  • The Obama Administration has commented that commercial and recreational fishing will continue to be managed under the same laws and regulations such as the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Regional Fishery Management Councils and all relevant state and federal laws. There will not be a ban on fishing. 

The whole point behind this policy is to promote cleaner water, along with healthier and more sustainable oceans. This can only help fishing.