For us recreational fishermen who are proud to call West Virginia home, we recognize and appreciate the incredible fisheries resources we are blessed with in “Almost Heaven.” While some of my favorite fishing spots are here in West Virginia, I’m fortunate to be able to fish all around the world and see firsthand the value of healthy, sustainable and accessible fisheries.
Whether trout fishing on the North Fork of the South Branch Potomac River or sailfish fishing off the Florida Keys, recreational fishermen are all inherently conservationists who care about clean water, healthy habitat and sustainable fish populations. Through fishing license fees, excise taxes on fishing equipment and motor boat fuel, and direct donations to conservation programs, America’s 49 million recreational fishermen contribute about $1.5 billion annually to aquatic resource conservation.
Anglers have a longstanding track record of leading advocacy efforts in support of healthy fish stocks and fish habitats. From helping to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, to ensuring sufficient population of forage fish are available to fill their key role in the marine food web, anglers are consistently at the forefront of pushing for conservation-focused laws and policies.
Recreational fishing is also a huge economic driver, including in rural areas. In West Virginia, recreational fishing has a $626.5 million economic impact annually and supports over 7,000 jobs.
I’m proud that our two U.S. Senators, Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, recognize the economic, social and conservation values of recreational fishing. They have been leaders in the Senate on fisheries issues, not only in their home state, but nationally, as well.
For example, Sen. Capito is the lead Republican author of S. 2773, a bill that would help ensure U.S. federal marine waters are clear of highly destructive drift gillnets. Although they have been banned in most U.S. and international waters, large mesh drift gillnets are still allowed in some parts of the West Coast. Most of the catch from these nets, which are over twice as wide as the New River Gorge Bridge and ensnare just about any marine life in their path, is thrown back overboard, much of it dead.
I’ve seen the negative effects that gillnets used in other countries can have in wiping out fish stocks. Large mesh drift gillnets have no place in U.S. waters, and I appreciate Sen. Capito’s leadership in ensuring we close this practice down.
For his part, Sen. Manchin has also been a leader on marine fisheries issues. He’s one of the lead authors of S. 1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (Modern Fish Act), which is co-sponsored by Sen. Capito. This broadly supported bipartisan bill would bring about long overdue improvements to saltwater recreational fisheries management and data collection.
Offshore waters have historically been the domain of the commercial fishing industry, but with the technological advances in recreational boats, engines and electronics, interest in offshore fishing has steadily increased over time. Federal marine fisheries management laws haven’t kept pace and are still focused on commercial fishing. The Modern Fish Act would provide the federal fisheries management system with the tools needed to adapt to recreational fishing, so that anglers can have improved access to healthy saltwater fisheries.
In these continuous political times, it’s heartening to see Sens. Manchin and Capito working across the aisle on bipartisan solutions to issues of importance to the recreational fishing community.
Fisheries issues should not fall victim to the rampant partisanship going on right now in Washington, D.C. Of all the fish I’ve caught over the years, I’ve never met one that calls itself a Democrat or Republican anyway.