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The Future of America's fishing industry

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Local group attends rally to amend fishing act in Washington, D.C.

By Michael Paul, Sports Editor

Brant McMullan achieved some life goals when he attended and spoke Feb. 24 at the United We Fish rally at the U.S. Capitol to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act. But another goal—passage of a bill to amend the act—is still in doubt.

“I thought it went really good,” McMullan said about the rally. “If I were to guess, 40 percent were from the New York-Massachusetts area, 40 percent from the Carolinas and the remainder from Florida, up and down the East Coast. A couple of people came from Alaska.”

Estimates of the crowd ranged from 3,000 to 5,000. McMullan chartered a bus that had a full capacity of 55 people, he said. They left McMullan’s Ocean Isle Fishing Center at 4:15 a.m. Feb 24 and reached the rally at 11:30 a.m. They returned to the fishing center at 1:30 a.m. Feb. 25.

The point of the rally was to gain congressional support for a bill that would correct what the Recreational Fishing Alliance says are “unintended negative impacts” of the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act. Two proposed bills are slowly gaining support. Several congressman spoke at the rally, as did some state officials.

“They seemed sincere,” McMullan said. “It was a bipartisan effort, senators and congressmen, Republicans and Democrats. It was a good mix.”

Among the local politicians McMullan said were present were U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., a co-sponsor of the House of Representatives bill, and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.

Newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown was present, as were bill sponsors Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

Pallone is the sponsor of HR 1584, The Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act. This bill amends the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to require fishery management plans, amendments or regulations for overfished fisheries to specify a time period for ending overfishing and rebuilding the fishery that is as short as practicable (it now reads “as short as possible”).

As of Feb. 25, the bill had 29 co-sponsors. It has been referred to the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife.

“Under this (MSA), fishery rebuilding plans must meet a rigid 10-year deadline to rebuild fishing stocks to unprecedented levels,” Pallone says on his Web site. “This timetable has led to consistent cuts to some fisheries, including summer flounder that hurts fishing communities economically. The flexibility called for in this legislation is needed so that unrealistic quotas are not implemented to the detriment of our fishermen.” ee

“The current regulations have done a lot of harm,” Pallone said at the rally, “and the way they’ve been implemented by regulators is overly restrictive and unfair.

“Fishermen have the same rights as all Americans to access our country’s natural resources. We will work so that our children can continue to enjoy fishing as a pastime and our fishermen may continue to hold these jobs that have served our communities so well.”

Schumer is sponsor of the Senate bill (S 1255). As of Feb. 25, it had two co-sponsors. The bill has been read twice and has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“Keeping our fishing stocks healthy is absolutely critical, and to accomplish this we can’t base decisions on outdated science and poor methods,” he said at the rally. “The fishing community has made many sacrifices and stocks are improving, so restricting families and others from fishing for them, based on bad data, in 2010 is just plain wrong.”

“Most of the politicians had something similar to say,” McMullan said. “A lot of the focus was about jobs. You shut down these fisheries and you are losing jobs, whether it’s somebody’s job to go out and catch the fish, or whether it’s somebody’s job to sell the fish somebody caught, or the fuel suppliers, or the guy who sells the bait, or the restaurant that sells the fish.

“It was one speaker after the next for three hours,” McMullan said.

A reluctant McMullan also spoke—at the end of the rally after being urged upon the stage. McMullan and his wife were standing near the back of the crowd when the master of ceremonies called McMullan’s name—three times.

The first time he heard his name, McMullan said, “I about froze. Then he called my name again, and I started to hide. My wife said, ‘Get up there.’ He called my name one more time, and it was like the “Price Is Right”—I jumped up, raised both arms up and said, ‘I’m back here.’ The crowd parted—it was a good 100 yards to the stage—and I ran through the whole crowd. Somebody grabbed my hand and pulled me up onto the stage.

“I thanked everybody for showing up. I said we’re representing everybody from Myrtle Beach to Wilmington. We’re commercial and recreational for hire, and we’re here to show our support.

“I checked off some of my life goals: I stood on the steps of the Capitol, spoke at a rally and raised my fist.”

Although his speech was a humorous incident, McMullan and others are serious about seeing the act amended.

Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, which organized the rally, said legislators are hearing the message one-on-one.

“We’ve had more than 100 meetings on the Hill these last few days,” he said. “All these groups here today were working to get their legislators to sign onto a bill that’s about sustainability and conservation, and then they (legislators) saw the turnout today. It was great.”

“The pressure will continue,” McMullan said. “That was one of the big points, that you got to continue to write your senators, your congressmen—pressure, pressure, pressure. It’s not just the coastal states.

“We could have gotten up there and there could have been 500 people and you would have felt this was a crappy deal. But the overwhelming sense of everybody on the bus was that it was worth being there and it was a worthwhile mission. Nobody felt it was a waste of time. The event was of a magnitude that it could possibly have a positive effect.”