Recently, the Modernizing Access to Our Public Waters Act (H.R. 6127) bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the bill is being considered in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries.
The MAPWaters Act would improve recreation on federal waterways by investing in modern technology to provide anglers, hunters, boaters, and other water users the information they need to safely and legally access and utilize public waters administered by federal agencies.
The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) and cosponsored by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-California), Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan).
“The MAPWaters Act will give Americans the confidence they need to partake in water-based recreation opportunities by directing federal agencies to clarify the complex rules of public waterways into accessible data in geospatial form,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This common-sense legislation will help recreationists stay safe and legal while enjoying the great outdoors.”
The MAPWaters Act builds on the success of the recent MAPLand Act by directing federal agencies to digitize water and fishing access and recreational use information on federal waterways and to make those resources readily available to the public. Federal waterways include any portion of a body of water managed, or partially managed, by one or more of the following federal agencies: the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.
This newly digitized public information would include:
- Status information on which waterways are open or closed to entry or watercraft, including watercraft inspection or decontamination requirements.
- The areas of waterways with restrictions on motorized propulsion, horsepower, or gasoline fuel.
- Types of watercraft that are restricted on each area of a waterway, including the permissibility of canoes, rafts, motorboats, airboats, oversnow vehicles on frozen bodies of water, etc.
- The location and geographic boundaries of fishing restrictions on recreational and commercial fishing, including full or partial closures, no-take zones, and fishing restrictions within or surrounding marine protected areas.
- Fishing restrictions concerning specific types of equipment or bait, such as restrictions on the use of barbed hooks or live bait and requirements with respect to catch and release.
Much of this information is housed in agency documents and difficult for the public to discover and access. For example, in the Code of Federal Regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service includes 42 pages worth of National Wildlife Refuge-specific recreation rules, many of which are tied to waterway navigation, use, and fishing.
The clarity and accessibility of regulations for both the public and the agencies entrusted to manage these waters will result in more Americans confidently accessing and enjoying their public waters.
“Knowing where to go fishing and what you can do when you get there is basic information all anglers need for a successful day on the water,” said Lindsay Slater, vice president of government affairs for Trout Unlimited. “The MAPWaters Act will standardize and simplify information for anglers to access and use waters managed by federal agencies, including decontamination requirements to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. We look forward to this bill becoming law and helping to better inform anglers who fish on public waters.”
“The MAPWaters Act will make spatial information on fishing and boating regulations more accessible, ensuring anglers can stay up to date with changing rules and restrictions,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs at the American Sportfishing Association. “By standardizing and digitizing information on federal waterways, MAPWaters will provide improved information on fishing piers, boat ramps, and access points, helping America’s 54.5 million anglers find new fishing spots. We thank Representatives Moore, Panetta, Fulcher, and Dingell for their leadership on this bill.”
“Access to water is just as important to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists as access to land,” said Laura Orvidas, CEO of onX. “Yet, regulations regarding water access are even more complex. Having water access information and regulations publicly available in a digital format is critical for communicating intended water use for responsible access and protecting aquatic species and their habitats. Through the MAPWaters Act, we can help empower the outdoor community to not only enjoy our nation’s vast waterways, but also recreate responsibly.”
“Improved national mapping data from federal agencies about watercraft restrictions and fishing regulations will help outdoor enthusiasts, anglers, and other water users discover and access new recreational opportunities,” said Zachary Pope, founder of TroutRoutes, a fishing-focused navigation application. “For the benefit of millions of American anglers, we support this bill and encourage congress to advance the MAPWaters Act into law.”