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March 20, 2012

Flap over Kerry role dawns as rally nears

A controversial bill to redirect funding from NOAA Operations into regional fishery management council projects cast a shadow Monday over Wednesday's national fishermen's rally near the U.S. Capitol in Washington — a rally aimed at building support for different legislation and allowing flexibility in stock rebuilding timetables.

The chief organizer for the rally told the Times he had advised the office of Sen. Olympia Snow that she would probably not be welcomed at the event should she make an appearance to promote the Fisheries Investment and Regulatory Relief Act of 2012 — the new bill she co-filed with Sen. John Kerry — rather than bills writing flexibility into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the rally's prime focus.

Jim Donofrio, executive director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said he had been contacted by Snowe's office about joining the list of speakers that includes Kerry, Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank, and about two dozen other federal lawmakers who have signed onto Senate and House versions of the flexibility bills.

"I told her (aide) the senator is welcome as long as she supports our goals for obtaining flexibility," said Donofrio. "We don't want her to discuss the 'Saltonstall-Kennedy' bill."

Donofrio was referring to the legislation Kerry and Snowe co-filed to reset the 1954 law that intended to create a dedicated funding source for fisheries research, development and marketing equal to 30 percent of seafood import tariffs. Over the years, Congress has diverted nearly all Saltonstall-Kennedy funding — about $100 million a year recently — into NOAA operations.

Donofrio said he was concerned about diluting the focus of the rally, a reunion from the February 2010 "United We Fish" that began a public drumbeat to loosen the strictures of the Magnuson Act on stock rebuilding deadlines.

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last October, in response to questioning by Rep. Frank, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco conceded there was no ecological rationale for rebuilding overfished stocks in 10 years, as Magnuson generally requires, but she declined to support flexibility legislation.

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