WASHINGTON — Fishermen, anglers, charter and party boat captains and marine business owners from coast to coast gathered in the capital Wednesday to demand changes in fisheries law that they say is putting them out of work.
Participants in the "United We Fish" rally want to loosen federal catch restrictions they say are severely damaging their industry.
This year and next, endangered coastal fishing grounds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are to be closed to allow depleted fish species to recover from overfishing. The closures could be as long as 10 years.
"A lot of coastal communities across the United States have had severe negative economic impacts from the excessive regulations," says Pam Anderson, the operations manager at the Capt. Anderson Marina in Panama City Beach. "Folks can't carry on."
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which enforces the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, introduced annual catch limits, closed some areas to fishing to stop overfishing and intend to close others. While the no-fishing areas represent only 1 percent of the total U.S. waters, the closures mean a loss of jobs and revenue for local economies.
While fishing still is allowed in the Gulf of Mexico, a region of the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to North Carolina was closed initially to fishing from Jan. 4 to June 2 to allow stocks of red snapper to replenish. The period can be extended for another six-months.
Fishermen fear long replenishment periods will have severe impact on the commercial and recreational fishing industry.
"At least a thousand jobs in Fort Lauderdale will be lost this year," said Bob Jones, director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association in Tallahassee. "The economic impact will be far beyond fishing industry."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sought congressional review Tuesday of the federal government's restrictions on commercial, recreational and charter fishing in Florida.
Federal fishery experts said that in the long run, the closures and the resulting rebound in the number of fish help the industry.
"It is much more financially stable and lucrative to the fishing industries," said Monica Allen, a spokeswoman for NOAA's Fisheries Service.