By Richard Gaines
Commercial and recreational fishing interests have announced plans for a major March 21 demonstration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington to energize the push for amending the law that directs the regulation of America's fisheries.
The "Keep Fishermen Fishing" rally was announced Friday in a release that focuses on the organizers' foes — defined as "a handful of mega-foundations and the anti-fishing ENGOs (environmental non-government organizations) they support to drive fishermen off the water."
To do that, demonstration organizers contend, nonprofit giants such as Environmental Defense Fund have influenced the government to misinterpret the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries and Conservation Act, which was amended significantly in 1996 and 2006.
Since the first mass rally, "United We Fish," which drew as many as 5,000 participants on Feb. 23, 2010, the fisheries policies of the Obama administration — embodied by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who came to office from academia and a board of director's post with EDF — have sparked fierce resistance on the water and in Congress to the so-called "green" power bloc.
Among the changes sought is the flexibility of time frames for rebuilding stocks, rather than clamping down fishing limits organizers say unduly harm the industry and fishing communities.
The most hotly disputed policy is the administration's effort to transform fishermen's catch into tradeable commodities through an allocation of catch shares.
The epicenter of the fight has become Massachusetts and New England, which came under a catch share regimen in 2010 and has been undergoing accelerated job loss and consolidation of control.
But in the Southeast, the Gulf, the West Coast and Alaska, resistance has also continued to policies perceived to be influenced by corporate foundations and ENGO clients such EDF and the Pew Environment Group.
The Walton Foundation, founded by Wal-Mart heirs, has been a lead financier of EDF's promotion of catch share commodification.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 231-131 in February 2011 to bar the launch of any new catch share programs, and a modified version of the ban was approved by the Senate during a continuing budget resolution. A similar ban for fiscal 2012, however, was killed in November by parliamentary maneuvering.
As with the first rally, participants are expected from all three coasts and Alaska. The Recreational Fishing Alliance again is handing the "red tape," permits, security and the like, according to the alliance's managing director Jim Hutchinson Jr.
"The initial Washington rally was a monumental success that helped put the plight of America's coastal fisherman and those in related businesses in the public eye," the rally announcement said. More than two dozen senators and representatives spoke at the 2010 demonstration.
"However, a continuous stream of regulatory requirements are leading to unnecessary and unacceptable restrictions in demonstrably sustainable fisheries," the announcement indicated. "As a consequence, the American public is being denied access to the food and fun of this tremendous natural resource.
"Most U.S. fisheries are in better shape biologically than they've been for a generation or more. In fact, last year NOAA Fisheries scientists announced that 84n percent of U.S. fish stocks studied for fishing activity were not experiencing overfishing as of 2010.
"However, despite the heavy sacrifices on the part of coastal fishermen, the same federal agency in charge of managing the resource has been using a broken law to mete out broken promises upon these constituents to ratchet down regulations as fisheries continue to rebuild."
The announcement said that "final details" of the 2012 Keep Fishermen Fishing rally are being put in place, including transportation from coastal communities across the country. A number of fishermen and industry backers traveled from Gloucester to D.C. for the "United We Fish" rally in 2010.
Anyone seeking information on how to get involved in the national rally may call 1-888-564-6732. For more information on the rally as it becomes available — including bus sign-up information and details from the 2010 rally — visit www.keepfishermenfishing.com.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.