WASHINGTON — About 2,000 recreational and commercial fishermen, and business owners that provide for these industries, gathered Wednesday afternoon near the U.S. Capitol to call for reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and allow for more flexibility and better scientific methods when setting catch limits.
About two dozen politicians — Democrats and Republicans — took to the stage to announce their support for the fishermen’s cause, saying they should be allowed to participate in their recreational activity or livelihood without bureaucratic interference and regulations that aren’t based on sound science.
“It’s out of control. What does it take to get fired at NOAA? When I held a hearing, one of the first hearings in Boston, I asked that important question and I’m still waiting for an answer. … We need to have [NOAA administrator Jane] Lubchenco fired. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said to the delight of the cheering crowd. “This is about people. It’s about eating safe food. It’s providing good jobs. It’s about protecting the environment and we need to work together.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., each talked about bills they’ve sponsored calling for amending the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to extend the authorized time period for the rebuilding of certain overfished fisheries and for other purposes.
“Who knows best how to conserve our fishing stocks? It’s the hardworking people in the fishing industry, not some guy in some ivory tower doing faulty studies. You folks don’t want to deplete the stocks, we know that, but you also want to make a living, and that’s the balance that we seek to find here today,” Schumer said. “Today I am calling on Congress to begin hearings on Magnuson reform this year. I will be making a major push to see that happens. Not next year, not two years from now, but this year.”
Pallone noted that in New Jersey alone, 50,000 jobs are directly related to fishing. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that in his state 77,000 people depend on the multibillion-dollar industry. U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., noted that in Florida the boating industry alone supports more than 200,000 jobs and has a total economic impact of $16.8 billion.
“To continue to go down this [path] is frankly going to ruin not only the fishing industry, but the boating industry, every bait and tackle shop, every Wawa along the way. You don’t think about that type of stuff until it’s too late,” said Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a rally without counter-protesters, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had a couple of representatives at the event, including someone dressed in a mermaid-type outfit holding a sign saying, “Try to relate to who’s on your plate.” But except for some rally attendees posing for pictures with the “mermaid” and a few media interviews, there was no disruption of the event.
“It was absolutely an overwhelming success,” Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, one of the rally organizers, told Soundings Trade Only.
“We have recognition now from some of the most powerful people in leadership that Magnuson needs flexibility and that they’re willing to work and make this happen for us,” he added. “This is a stunning achievement from 2010’s rally. We were there, we asked for Magnuson reform and two years later — and you know the way Congress works, it’s a snail’s pace — we have eight Magnuson bills out there right now and this much interest from the leadership. We’re being very effective at what we do despite being called a fringe group by others.”
Although the number of people who attended the rally was down from 2010, Donofrio said he attributes that to the rise in gas prices and the economy rather than a lack of interest.
The next step, he said, is to work on getting one of the House bills out of committee.
“If Congress didn’t hear us after two rallies, then we might as well just forget the whole thing. I think the next move will be, if nothing gets fixed, we’ll do our own tea party — and I’m not talking about the Tea Party, the political group. I’m talking about a real tea party, where we just don’t obey laws that are arbitrary in nature and not criminal. They’re administrative laws that don’t allow us to fish on healthy fish,” Donofrio said.
“I don’t want it to get to that, but they’re going to force fishermen to either be criminals or go out of business,” he added. “We don’t want that, and I think Congress got that message.”
Look for more on the rally in the May issue of Soundings Trade Only.
— Beth Rosenberg