The Ocean, a vast landscape of mystery and intrigue. Throughout the years, ecosystems and fish populations have been negatively affected by those looking to take advantage and exploit saltwater fish populations. While saltwater fly fishing historically has not been the most popular of pursuits, fast forward a generation or so and fly fishing the salt has become the fastest growing segment of our sport—and we are enjoying some of the best fishing experiences of our lives.
There are many reasons for this. The entry-level affordability and sheer number of passionate anglers introducing others to our sport. More experienced outfitters and guides opening doors to water and fish we couldn’t reach before. Better technology and quality in the rods, reels, fly lines, and other gear we rely on to make successful connections with those fish. But one important element that underpins all of this is something that most fly anglers only think about once a year when they buy their license: the laws that protect our fish and the places we find them.
When it comes to fly fishing the salt, specifically fish that fall under federal management (think bluefish in the Northeast, mackerel or snapper in the Gulf, jacks in the South Atlantic, coho salmon in the Northwest), the law that provides for access while protecting them from overfishing is the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). It’s this law, which requires catch limits, fish stock rebuilding plans, and more, that has led to the recovery of over 40 species since 2000 that were previously depleted by overfishing. The MSA is currently up for reauthorization, which means Congress is looking at whether the law needs updates or amendments. While the MSA has proven that it works, there are special interests who are pushing to relax the conservation provisions in the law. A bill in the House of Representatives —H.R. 200—would exempt certain fisheries from catch limits thus increasing the risk of overfishing. It would also allow delays in recovering overfished species, thus keeping depleted populations at less than healthy levels. The bill is an attempt to increase fishing opportunity in the short-term, but in doing so, it threatens the availability of abundant fisheries that form the basis for a successful angling experience.
If you value access and abundance like we do, today and for generations to come, we can’t let this happen. The forward-thinking, common sense, science-based laws of the MSA are a huge reason we are enjoying such healthy, sustainable numbers of fish and unprecedented access to fisheries that were once out of reach right here along our own coasts. If there are no fish, there will be no fishing.
If we don’t make our voice heard, the cost of this short-term, short-sighted gain would turn the clock back on the vital protection of our fisheries—which means our kids and grandkids will be left saying not-in-my-lifetime, instead of planning their own once-in-a-lifetime trips to our own treasured, wild, blue frontier.