Florida Representative a co-sponsor of forward-thinking legislation to benefit coastal fisheries.

Shad and herrings. Menhaden and mullet. These and other plankton-feeders are major contributors to the marine ecology that supports coastal sportfishing. Unfortunately, these small species seldom get the full treatment fishery managers accord snappers, sailfish, striped bass and other high-level predators.

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week would add valuable layers of protection to so-called forage fish. It’s a relatively brief bill with straightforward text, proposing amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 40-year-old underpinnings of U.S. marine fisheries management.

The amendments would:

  • Define forage fish
  • Charge regional councils with using, and commissioning, scientific advice to help manage forage fish. [Regional councils are organized around groups of coastal states with a stake in federal decision-making; Florida, for instance, is part of the South Atlantic Fishery Management and also the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.]
  • Limit new fisheries on forage-level species until authorities can evaluate their status–and their relationships to the dietary needs of higher predators
  • Specific text to conserve shad and river herring

The bill was to be introduced during the week of April 8-12 by co-sponsors Brian Mast (R-FL) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI).

Representative Mast, of Florida’s 18th Congressional District, has been in the news quite a bit recently on subjects relating to sealife and the marine environment. This spring, Mast vocalized solutions to Lake Okeechobee management intended to resolve water pollution impacting Florida’s southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts. (There is federal oversight of Lake Okeechobee through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

“On the Treasure Coast we know firsthand how irresponsible management of our marine ecosystem can have devastating ripple effects on our environment, food supply, fishing industry and overall economy,” Rep. Mast said. “This [Forage Fish Act] is important and bipartisan sustainability legislation that will help protect our coastal health, environment and economy.”

“It’s a positive sign when you have a Congressman such as Brian Mast fighting for both water quality and for the fish, no matter what end of the food chain they swim in,” said Florida Sportsman Publisher Blair Wickstrom.

Florida Sportsman joined several other groups urging support for the Forage Fish Act. Among that number is the American Sportfishing Association, or ASA, which issued the following summary:

“Demand for these nutrient-rich species—which are used to make fertilizer, feed for livestock and farmed fish, and products such as cosmetics—continues to skyrocket worldwide. Yet forage fish are critical to healthy oceans and to fishing, seafood, and tourism businesses, making it important that forage fish management accounts for their role in the ocean.”

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