Fishermen plan to take regulations fight to D.C.

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press / February 15, 2010

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Fishermen from around the country are planning to pack the steps in front of the US Capitol this month to demand changes to a federal fisheries law they say is killing jobs and eroding fishing communities.

Organizers of the “United We Fish’’ rally expect up to 3,000 people at the Feb. 24 protest, including a bipartisan roster of congressmen and fishermen from as far away as Alaska.

State Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, and state Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat, have scheduled a workshop in Gloucester to help those attending the rally bring a focused message and plan a follow-up.

Fishing law usually changes slowly, but Tarr said lawmakers can act quickly to fix a dysfunctional system.

“It’s an important thing that while we’re in Washington, we convey the urgency of the situation,’’ he said.

Various issues are now roiling the fishing business, including questions about uneven law enforcement, restrictions on key recreational stocks, and a switch to a new system of regulating Northeast fishermen. Jim Hutchinson Jr. of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a rally organizer, said the demonstration’s overall goal is changing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal fisheries law that was reauthorized in 2007. Hutchinson said the law sets unrealistic fish stock recovery goals based on flawed science, then mandates harsh cuts for failing to meet the goals.

“This is about real people having real concerns and being put out of business, being kicked off the water,’’ Hutchinson said.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman, Monica Allen, said the agency “will be listening carefully to what fishermen and others have to say that day.’’

She added that the United States has world-leading fishery science and management, and fishermen will see the benefits of that work.

“We estimate that once the nation rebuilds all fisheries, which we are on a track to do and required to do by law, the dockside value of our fisheries would go from $4.1 billion to $6.3 billion annually, a 54-percent increase,’’ she said.

Hutchinson said his New Jersey-based group started organizing the rally after a closure of the amberjack fishery last year followed other closures the group viewed as based on bad science, such as on a healthy black sea bass stock.