Rubio & Nelson Introduce Florida Fisheries Improvement Act

Earlier this month U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced legislation designed to enhance and protect Florida’s fishery resources and those who rely on them. The Florida Fisheries Improvement Act comes with a number of changes to improve flexibility for management as well as stakeholder input.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)

“This bipartisan bill reflects the best ideas from Florida’s commercial, charter and recreational fishing communities, and would ensure federal fishing laws reflect the realities of our unique Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions while continuing to promote research and conservation efforts,” Rubio stated in a press release. “As Congress works towards a reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens, I remain committed to ensuring Florida’s fisheries are well represented.”

“Florida is the fishing capital of the world,” said Nelson, “and this bill will help to ensure that this celebrated tradition is available for many more generations to come.”

A number of stakeholders from the fishing community support the proposed bill, including The Billfish Foundation. Our President, Ellen Peel, stated “The Billfish Foundation applauds the work of Senator Rubio in drafting the Florida Fisheries Improvement Act, which addresses real fisheries problems, including bringing more transparency and accountability to the Exempted Fishing Permit process.”

The proposed legislation came just before the decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service to grant an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for a longline operation in the Florida east coast closed zone. The area has been closed to longlining for 16 years in order to protect juvenile swordfish as well as other billfish, sharks, and sea turtle species. Now, a researcher with conflicting interests will be allowed to use the gear in the area to determine whether the closure was successful and sell the fish caught in the process. TBF strongly opposes this decision and is gathering support to fight it—you can lend your voice here.

The Florida Fisheries Improvement Act proposes the following:

  • Give the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Regional Fishery Management Councils greater flexibility in setting rebuilding timelines for fisheries.
  • Include provisions to increase the availability of funding for stock assessments, surveys and data collection.
  • Require the Secretary of Commerce to create a stock assessment plan to better prioritize stock assessments and submit a report to Congress on how to improve data collection from fishermen and other stakeholders.
  • Include provisions to increase transparency and public involvement in the scientific and statistical committee process, as well as the consideration of experimental fishing permits*.
  • Authorize the Councils to consider alternative management measures such as extraction rates or fishing mortality targets in fishery management plans to better reflect the different priorities of each industry.
  • Ensure nominations to the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils reflect the mixed nature of fishery stakeholders by ensuring commercial, charter and recreational fishermen are afforded the opportunity to be nominated.
  • Require the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to review the allocation process every five to eight years and directs the National Academy of Sciences to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator to assist in identifying what Councils should take into account when dealing with the allocation process.
  • Resolve inconsistencies between the Capital Construction Fund and Fisheries Finance Program;
  • Require the U.S. secretary of commerce to make fishery disaster designations within 90 days of receiving information from the state.
  • Exempt fisheries with a mean life cycle of less than 1 year or with spawning areas outside the United States, such as spiny lobster, from unnecessary rebuilding timelines.

Additional supporters of the bill include the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Southeastern Fisheries Association, American Sportfishing Association, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, Florida Keys Commercial Fisherman’s Association, and Wild Ocean Seafood Market.

*This point refers to the exempted fishing permit (EFP) recently granted by NMFS.