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Recreational Fishing’s Unparalleled Warrior

When it comes to standing up for America’s saltwater anglers, Jim Donofrio has been an unparalleled warrior for more than a quarter-century. Founder of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Donofrio retires as executive director of the group at the end of the month.

In 1996 Donofrio, created the first political action organization focused squarely on the needs of saltwater anglers, the recreational fishing industry and our marine resources. He has successfully guided RFA’s mission: To safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers; protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs; and ensure the long-term sustainability of U.S. saltwater fisheries.

When Donofrio announced the formation of RFA, his vision to establish a community that would raise a political voice at the state and national levels was unique to the legislative and regulatory process that governs how recreational fisheries and anglers are managed. A full-time professional captain in the 1990s, Donofrio was logging hundreds of on-board hours per year when he became intimately aware of how regulations impact coastal fishermen, business owners, manufacturers and retailers.

The value of his experience as a captain became apparent as he and RFA grew into a disruptive force while engaging in battles over pelagic longline gear, a proposed endangered species listing for white marlin, and passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act, which led to the reauthorization to the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson) in the late ’90s.

Through the years, Donofrio recognized the importance of maintaining strong working relationships with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, as well as with fishery managers and scientists. He emphasized that coastal fishing issues are non-partisan and testified before Congress numerous times on behalf of the recreational fishing community.

“No one has fought harder for the rights of the saltwater angler,” said Pat Healey, president of Viking Yacht Co. “Jim has been an incredible asset for us, and the RFA wouldn’t be what it is today without him. We can’t thank Jim enough for all he has done.”

As someone who made a living on the water for much of his career, Donofrio was also able to maintain close working relationships with members of the commercial fishing sector, even as the two sides battled over gear and fish allocation issues. After spearheading national rallies on Capitol Hill attended by thousands of commercial and recreational fishermen seeking Magnuson-Stevens reform, even those on the opposing end of RFA efforts came to respect his tenacious but fair approach in fighting for the recreational community.

Richard Pombo, former republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called Donofrio a “trusted friend” on federal fisheries issues.

“I have worked with Jim for over 20 years on every issue impacting the RFA,” Pombo said. “He has always been a passionate advocate for fishermen and extremely well-versed in very complicated Federal laws.”

A sample of issues and actions tackled under Donofrio’s leadership includes:

• The first and only organization to vociferously oppose catch shares and “individual fishing quota” schemes aimed at the recreational fishing community.

• Led historic rallies in Washington, D.C., by assembling more than 5,000 fishermen to demonstrate a united front between recreational and commercial fishing in the successful call for federal overhaul of restrictive regulations.

• Responded to arbitrary and capricious federal fisheries closures of both red snapper and black sea bass, with litigation commenced against NOAA Fisheries and the Secretary of Commerce called for immediate action.

• In Louisiana, RFA members led a successful campaign to defeat a restrictive bill aimed against bowfish anglers in the Gulf of Mexico.

• In New Jersey, RFA successfully spearheaded efforts to pass legislation limiting the size and power of commercial boats participating in menhaden harvesting for bait, while also limiting entry provisions for commercial owners looking to take menhaden.

Donofrio will begin his retirement Dec. 31 to spend well-deserved time with family and, you guessed it, more fishing, and RFA will continue to benefit from his knowledge and experience as he assists the board with the organizational transition in 2022.

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