Congress weighing in on four fishing- and conservation-themed bills

Forage Fish Conservation Act and DESCEND Act are among the bills headlining 2020 priorities for angling interests.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Legislators are back in session in Washington, D.C., and representatives, despite the political climate, have plenty of business to attend to during the second half of the 116th Congress. Among the bills on the docket this year are three proposals affecting national fishing and conservation policy. Those bills are the Forage Fish Conservation Act, DESCEND Act, Climate-Ready Fisheries Act of 2019 and Fishery FUNDD.

The Forage Fish Conservation Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in April 2019, would require federal fisheries managers, when setting catch limits, to factor in the role of forage fish in marine ecosystems.

Forage fish are an essential link in the marine ecosystem, according to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), which supports the bill.

“Forage fish provide food for nearly all recreationally important fish species, as well as seabirds and other marine life,” Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Southeast Fisheries Policy director, recently testified. “Meanwhile, human demand for these nutrient-rich species continues to increase. As these integral parts of the marine food web become targeted for commercial exploitation, it’s critically important that forage fish management accounts for their role in marine ecosystems.”

“The Forage Fish Conservation Act would require that the impacts on fish populations and the marine ecosystem be considered before implementing management plans for forage fish,” Ralston continued.

Reps. Debbie Dingle, D-Michigan, and Brian Mast, R-Florida, introduced the Forage Fish Conservation Act.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California, meanwhile, joined with Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, in November 2019 to introduce the DESCEND Act. Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, and Doug Jones, D-Alabama introduced a similar version of the bill in the U.S. Senate.

The DESCEND Act was proposed to protect the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper. Commercial and recreational fishers in the Gulf of Mexico could be required to possess a descending device (rigged and ready to use) or a venting tool on their vessels when fishing for reef fish in federal portions of America’s third major waterway. The descending device/venting tool requirement would help lower discard mortality rates, according to the bill’s authors and supporters.

Also on the docket this year is the Climate-Ready Fisheries Act of 2019, which, according to the ASA, would “help better identify the future needs of fisheries management as fish stocks relocate due to changing environmental conditions.”

The Fisheries Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations (Fishery FUNDD), meanwhile, aims to streamline federal fisheries disaster responses. Passage and signing of this proposal would help fishing communities recover faster whenever they are struck by emergency.

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