Fishing group alleges government violation of Magnuson-Stevens

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The Recreational Fishing Alliance sent a letter Thursday to Roy Crabtree, the Southeast regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and several members of Congress, accusing the federal fisheries agency of violating federal law.

"Dr. Crabtree recently took a position against the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and its chairman, Doug Boyd, that RFA believes is a gross infringement of the Magnuson-Stevens Act," RFA executive director Jim Donofrio said in a statement. "This federal agency is making its own legal opinions in ignoring the will of stakeholders at the Gulf Council, with what appears to be zero managerial oversight within the U.S. Department of Commerce."

Donofrio said in the letter that the absence of a Secretary of Commerce in the year that Washington has failed to confirm one, combined with the position of Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere being vacant for the past three months, is especially troubling for coastal fishermen who have been waging "an uphill battle against over-burdensome bureaucracy for years."

"The Commerce Department has been hostile towards our coastal businesses during the past five years. That's been proven by previous Inspector General reports in light of document shredding, predatory enforcement and misuse of federal funds at NOAA fisheries," Donofrio wrote. "To see this latest round of attacks by NOAA against our Gulf fishermen is proof that Congress needs to step up and step in."

Last month the Gulf Council voted to rescind a rule it passed in 2008 giving the Fisheries Service the authority to force federally permitted vessels to abide by the "draconian federal restrictions, even when fishing in state waters, or risk losing their federal license," the RFA statement read. Crabtree's response was that the official vote was "not warranted," so it would not be honored by the fisheries service.

RFA member Tom Adams said the for-hire charter industry, which operates only to take recreational anglers fishing, would suffer. "The families and children, while on summer vacation, will be hurt the most," Adams said in the statement.

Fellow RFA-Florida angler and advocate Capt. Buddy Bradham said the region's waterfront businesses were still suffering after the massive BP oil spill and that the rules were "causing a huge economic impact to this area."

Click here for the full letter.

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