Testimony of Congressman Collin Peterson on the Freedom to Fish Act

Before the Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Committee on Resources United States House of Representatives.

Posted on January 01, 2006

Mr. Chairman: Thank you for allowing me to testify before your important subcommittee in support of H.R. 3547, a bill that would preserve and protect the American public's freedom to fish responsibly in federal waters.

This legislation provides reasonable and responsible guidelines for the use of marine protected areas as a fishery management tool. It provides for the involvement of the public in the development of these areas and ensures that recreational fishing will only be curtailed if other fishery management measures have failed to address a specific resource decline.
For a long time, fishermen have supported temporary closed fishing seasons to allow fish populations to grow to optimum size. However, at the end of the closed season, fishermen expect most of these areas to be reopened to allow fishermen to enjoy the benefit of their conservation efforts. Where fishermen have been involved in the development of the closed areas and where they believe a closed area will actually increase the amount of fish they can take in the future, fishermen can be expected to support and comply with the fishery conservation programs.
The present rhetoric about marine reserve differs substantially from the traditional use of closed areas to enhance fishing opportunities. Marine reserves are intended to be closed to all forms of fishing on a permanent basis, including catch and release fishing that is now being practiced by an increasing number of Americans. Moreover, the marine reserve advocates want these massive areas declared off-limits to fishing before there has been any scientific proof that permanent no-fishing zones would actually produce more fish for fish for recreational fishermen or enhance the overall fishery. To put this as simply as I can, the marine reserve movement seeks to deprive the American public of access to a public resource.
Mr. Chairman, common sense tells us that there will be more fish and probably a greater variety of fish within almost any area if the government doesn't allow any fishing to take place. However, as other witnesses will tell you, there has been very little scientific support for the proposition that closing one part of the ocean will allow the government to increase the amount of fish that can be taken from the other parts of the ocean. To the contrary, by preventing the sustainable use of fish within the closed areas, marine reserves are more likely to decrease the potential total fishery harvests when compared to conventional fishery management programs. In addition, depending on the size of the areas to be closed, there could be significant adverse environmental effects by forcing fishermen from their historic fishing grounds into other areas. In my view, permanent closed areas have a very high potential to cause permanent severe hardship to coastal communities where fishing is a major contributor to the local economy.
For these reasons, I have introduced H.R. 3547, the Freedom to Fish Act. While this act would not prevent the Federal government from adopting any permanent no-fishing zones, it would ensure that fishermen would be actively involved in the decision-making process and that no areas would become a Federal marine reserve unless traditional fishery management programs could not provide for the conservation of the resource. H.R. 3547 would also provide that each and every marine reserve would be subject to review every three years and, based on those reviews, these no-fishing zones will be reopened whenever they fail to demonstrate positive benefits for the fishing public's enjoyment of our Nation's fishery resources.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony and I would be please to answer any questions that you or any other member of the subcommittee may have.