Anglers March on Washington

Thousands of recreational anglers, charterboat operators and commercial fishermen from every coastal state descended on Washington at a rally to support proposed legislation that would reform provisions contained in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

Called the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009, House Bill H.R.1584 and Senate Bill S 1255 would allow fisherman to retain reasonable access to healthy fisheries as fish stocks continue to rebuild and meet conservation objectives. The bills' purpose is to end regulations based on flawed science using insufficient data with very large margins of error.

The "United We Fish" rally at Capitol Hill drew a crowd estimated between three and four thousand, consisting of an eclectic mix of commercial fishermen, charter and party boat captains, and recreational anglers and tackle shop owners. While the crowd was clearly tilted towards commercial interests (no official numbers are available but I'm guessing the split was about 70-30,) a spirit of unity was observed. Time and time again both the speakers and the crowd addressed the need to unite forces, in order to protect our ability to fish.

"Maybe we argued about allocation yesterday, and maybe we'll argue about it again tomorrow," said Jim Hutchinson, Managing Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. "But today we're here together because if we don't unite there won't be any allocation to talk about. This is about our legal access to fisheries. We all need to fight for it, because some of the interests out there don't care how or why you fish, they just want to get you off the water."

The rally attracted some heavy-hitting politicians, as well as the high-liners. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took the stage early, and was followed by others including Kay Kagen (D-NC) and Barney Frank (D-MA). All spoke of the need to maintain access to fisheries, with much of the talk focusing on the Flexibility in Rebuilding America's Fisheries Act, HR 1584/SB 1255. This bill would change the restrictive timelines for fisheries rebuilding in the Magnuson-Stevens act, and was widely supported by the rally attendees.

"We need this because the goals and timelines currently in place are ridiculous," said John McFalls, secretary of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsman's Association Atlantic Coast Chapter. "We need to tell our representatives that if they don't support this bill, we won't vote for them."

The feeling was echoed by fishermen from all segments of the industry. Capt. Monty Hawkins, with 30 years at the helm of the Ocean City party boat Morning Star, said "Our industry is being stolen by bad data and lying paperwork." Capt. Cliff Parker of the Hatteras charter boat Big Easy added "Regulation, taxation, and litigation are killing us. These are good-hearted working people here, and we're losing our ability to support our families."

Contingents from every coastal state attended the rally, and wandering through the crowd jackets and hats for commercial boats and charter operations from all across America were visible: Pt. Judith, RI, Shinnecock, NY, Destin, FL, and even Seldovia, AK. Grundens were everywhere.

The crowd remained polite and peaceful, though vocal, throughout the rally, and the us-versus-them mentality we're used to seeing when commercials and recs share the stage seemed to be history. At least, for now-and regardless of what one thinks of the rally, this in and of itself should be considered a victory.

It's not too late to add your voice to the crowd: go to http://www.unitedwefish.com/ and click on the "Contact Your Senator" button, if you want to show your support.