National fishermen's protest set for Feb. 24By Richard Gaines
The date of a national demonstration by fishing interests in Washington, D.C., has been set for Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Originally scheduled for Feb. 17, the announcement of the changed date was made Monday by the Conservation Cooperative of Gulf Fishermen, one of the organizers of the event.
CCGF spokesman Capt. Bob Zales said the change was made because Feb. 17 was discovered to fall during a congressional recess.
The protest has drawn national interest. Along with Zales' organization, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, an umbrella group representing states' recreational fishing organizations, United Boatsmen of New York and New Jersey as well as the organizers of the commercial fishermen's protest held in Gloucester in October at the regional offices of the National Marine Fisheries Service are expected to attend.
The target of the protest is Congress at a time when efforts are under way to modify the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act to allow more flexibility in the setting of rebuilding deadlines for overfished stocks. In its reauthorization in 2006, Congress required most stocks to be restored by 2014.
Congressman Barney Frank, whose House district includes New Bedford, has scheduled a caucus of East Coast congressmen and -women for tomorrow to consider how best to proceed.
Frank voted against the Magnuson-Stevens' reauthorization, which among things, shifted the authority to establish maximum allowable catches from the regional management councils, made up of gubernatorial appointees and statutory members, to their science and statistical committees.
In practice, the shift of authority has produced more conservative catch limits, according to Frank and industry figures. And Frank has questioned the wisdom of such rigid deadlines for the completion of rebuilding programs.
"The protest is about flexibility and upholding National Standard 8," said Amanda Odlin, who, with her husband owns and operates two commercial boats out of Boston. Odlin was the lead organizer of the protest that, in October, drew more than 300 fishermen and their supporters to NMFS' regional offices in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act contains 10 national standards or goals.
The text makes clear that rebuilding takes precedence.
But Standard No. 8 states that "conservation and management measures shall, consistent with the conservation requirements of this Act — including the prevention of overfishing and rebuilding of overfished stocks — take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities in order to provide for the sustained participation of such communities, and to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts."
That economic impact is being raised by a number of fishing industry backers, and fishing community leaders.
"The overly restrictive management requirements created by the reauthorized Magnuson Act based on non-scientific arbitrary deadlines are forcing anglers off the water, eliminating commercial fishing, preventing consumers from purchasing locally caught fresh seafood, destroying small family businesses, increasing unemployment and adversely affecting coastal communities," Zales wrote in his announcement of the change in the demonstration date.
Along with Frank, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe has also initiated action to free up more fish for New England's commercial fleet. The Maine Republican's approach is legislation to recognize that a U.S.-Canadian management arrangement along the ocean border through Georges Bank is an "agreement," a structure with higher legal impact than the current "understanding," and in the process exempts the effort from Magnuson-Stevens
The impact of that measure would be to allow more yellowtail flounder caught on the U.S. side of the boundary.
Losses from the more conservative catch limits on yellowtail flounder have been projected to reach $100 million because the control of yellowtail by the New England Fishery Management Council also indirectly limits the harvest of scallops, the premier cash stock that yellowtail lives among on the ocean floor.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or via em-mail at email@example.com