From far-flung ports north and south of here, a broad-based movement of aggrieved fishermen is on its way to Gloucester, where protesters planned to meet at 8:30 a.m. today outside the new federal fisheries office building to register objections to the impact on their ways of life of a new wave of policies.
The demonstration, authorized by the Gloucester Police in consultation with Homeland Security, Immigration, Customs and Federal Protective Services, includes a speakers' list of about a dozen, mostly fishermen.
The Blackburn Industrial Park offices from which the 200 bureaucrats, lawyers and law enforcement investigators of the National Marine Fisheries Service regulate fishing Maine through the Carolinas will be open or business, officials have said.
Late yesterday, Amanda Odlin, lead organizer of the meeting, took her children, Lydia, 10, and Maya, 12, to karate and put the finishing touches on a press package that features a letter of solidarity from Elinor Ostrom.
The recipient earlier this month of a Nobel prize in economics, Ostrom wrote that "I wish that I could join you today as you struggle with an important issue for you and your families and for all of us affected by the fisheries world."
Odlin, who had never organized a rally before, said she did it via the Internet, and guessed that hundreds would be together for the protest. She was planning to leave from home in Scarborough, Maine, at dawn with her fisherman husband Chris and their daughters, who've been assigned by their school to take pictures and notes for a public affairs report.
Energy behind the protest seemed to bubble up from then seaweedy-roots of America's oldest fishing ports, Maine through Maryland, and was brought about without the encouragement or involvement of the political sector.
In a press statement issued yesterday, organizers said the rally has four goals:
To demand flexibility in rebuilding timelines, and support efforts in Congress to change unrealistic regulations;
To demand better management and greater professionalism from NOAA Fisheries;
To demand an independent economic analysis of the affects of planned fisheries regulations before they are enacted;
To mitigate the effect of anticipated negative economic consequences with programs, such as credit availability and buy-backs when government policy is expected to cause economic hardship; for example, an expected reduction in the number of vessels and businesses.
"Fifteen years of increasingly severe catch limits on cod, flounder and other groundfish are paying dividends off the New England coast," the release said. "Although the public has been fed a diet of gloom-and-doom stories about fish, stocks are making great strides. It is time, they say, that management plans reflected this."
"The fishermen have the evidence on their side," said Jerry Fraser, editor of the trade journal National Fisherman and a longtime industry observer. "For years, they have been told that someday their sacrifices would pay off, yet now that stocks are recovering the government is telling them that tomorrow never comes."
The protesters' ire is split between congressional action three years ago, and recent regional decisions by the New England Fishery Management Council to begin transforming the common resources of the sea into commodities or catch shares distributed to fishing boats that organize into cooperatives or sectors and Congressional action three years ago.
Under heavy environmental sector pressure, the Congressional reauthorization of the Magnuson Act set rigid deadlines for the recovery of the overfished stocks simultaneously.
"Federal law has set fisheries up to fail in New England and across the nation," the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region's largest industry group, said in a separate statement issued yesterday.
"Adding to the pain is regional policy makers' unwillingness to embrace the discretion provided to them under the law," the coalition said. "When scientific information is in question, regional policy makers have the ability to end overfishing as more consideration is made on an appropriate rebuilding plan. The new law may be unrealistic but it does not mandate self-inflicted wounds.
"It's time we all admit that the law is misguided and work together to strike a balance which is good for the fish and good for the fishermen," said the coalition which organized 13 sectors to comply with the management scheme required to qualify for catch share allocation of the total allowable catch.
The sectors represent the vast majority of the fishermen with enough catch history to expect a viable allocation. But in the aftermath of actions by the council this year, the coalition has become increasingly disenchanted with the system.
Late yesterday, Sen. Bruce Tarr said he would attend the rally and present a statement from state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante. Both are considered staunch allies of the fishing community.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk has announced that she would shun the event because of its location, adjacent to federal fishery office. She also said she had not been invited by an organizer.
Richard Gaines can be reached at email@example.com
Anticipated speakers for today's fishermen's rally in Gloucester include:
Allyson Jordan (Maine, F/V owner/operator, Gloucester Take Out).
Amanda Odlin (Maine, Husband F/V operator/owner, Boston Take Out).
Joel Hovanesian (RI, F/V owner/operator-Point Judith).
Eric Anderson (NH, F/V owner/operator-Portsmouth).
Jim Lovgren (NJ, F/V Owner/Operator/former Mid-Atlantic Council member).
Richard Grachek (RI, F/V owner/operator-Pt. Judith).
Mary Beth DePoutiloff, (Provincetown, F/V owner/operator).
Tina Jackson & Brian Loftes (RI, AAFC and F/V owner/operators, Pt, Judith).
Stephen Ouellette, (Gloucester, Proctor of Admiralty, Esq.)
David Lincoln¬ (Gloucester, Coastal geologist).