"(It was) an incredible success," Recreational Fishing Alliance's Jim Donofrio said. "We have close to 4,000 fishermen (at the march). This was better and bigger than we ever thought."
RFA organizers originally hoped the three-hour rally would draw 3,000 fishermen. Participants carried signs that read, "I Fish, I Vote," "Reform Magnuson Now," "Give Back My Red Snapper" and other requests for reform.
The rally was scheduled to bring attention to several issues in fisheries management, and the fishermen arrived in busloads to show their support and secure the attention of their legislators. The management issues the fishermen find intolerable include the inflexible nature of fisheries management dictated by the current interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and the use of scientific survey methods known to be flawed as prime indicators by the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce quotas and close fisheries that are actually healthy.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act is the nation's primary fishing law, and aided fishermen when it was originally enacted in 1976 by eliminating foreign fishing. However, new wording added during reauthorizations in 1996 and 2006 has mandated rebuilding fish populations using arbitrary timetables that have resulted in the closure of many healthy and growing fisheries.
While the event was organized and coordinated by the RFA, it was historic in that it brought recreational and commercial fishermen together in a common cause for fisheries reform - keeping viable fisheries open. The fishermen, who came from as far as away as Alaska and California, stood side-by-side as they made their collective voice heard in united opposition to the strict federal fishing requirements contained in the MSA.
Even better, representatives and senators from many of the coastal states attended and listened.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), lead sponsor of the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act (SB 1255) began the rally championing the revision of Magnuson-Stevens.
"Shame on the Magnuson-Stevens Act," said Schumer, pointing out the problem of arbitrary time-specific deadlines in the law. "We need flexibility to be able to thrive. We need to start caring about our fishermen as much as our fish."
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), a longtime champion of coastal issues with a proven track record in protecting the ocean environment, agreed.
"The science is broken, and what they are doing is wrong," Pallone said. "We need flexibility. That's the only way we're going to make some changes around here."
Pallone is the lead sponsor of HR 1584, the House version of the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act.
Other legislative speakers included Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.); and Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C), Harry Brown (R-S.C.) and John Mica (R-Fla.).
A report from RFA said HR 1584 picked up three additional co-sponsors this week due in large part to the Feb. 24 rally (29 total co-sponsors), while SB 1255 gained another three supporters (for a total of 5).