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Contact Your Congressman!

Fishermen better stand up and be heard, or be prepared to sit at home instead of fishing. It is that simple. So far, only four Florida congressional leaders (Rep. Allen Boyd, Rep. Virginia Brown-Waite, Rep. John Mica and Rep. Clifford Stearns) have signed on as co-sponsors to the “Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009” (HR 1584) introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone.

A companion bill in the Senate (S. 1255) has also been filed. Both have been referred to committees, where previous versions have died without ever coming to a vote. The “Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act” would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) to allow flexibility in the time periods set to rebuild certain overfished species.

“Overfishing requirements are the problem. Unless and until they are relaxed, fishing as we have known it is done. This is alarming, but in my opinion very true. If you fish, eat fish, sell fish, look at fish or if you want to keep fresh fish from the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic, the time to act is now...period,” says Capt. Bob Zales II.

Several fishing groups have called on Sen. Bill Nelson and others to co-sponsor the bills and insure sure they contain language that will add much-needed flexibility to the current overly restrictive overfishing requirements that cause severe reductions in fishing seasons, bag limits and total closures of very important recreational fisheries like Gulf and Atlantic red snapper and grouper.

In a letter to Nelson, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) called for an immediate moratorium on any closures to the recreational harvest of red snapper until better scientific analysis can be conducted. RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio explains that on-water observations from anglers throughout the southeastern U.S. indicate red snapper are more abundant today than at any time in the past 25 years, yet overly restrictive management process continues to deny public access due primarily to a defective data collection method.

“Much of the information used to make today’s restrictive decisions comes from a recreational data collection program deemed by the National Research Council as ‘fatally flawed’ and ‘inappropriate for management purposes,” Donofrio said.

The RFA points out that SEDAR (Southeastern Data, Assessment and Review) process used to assess red snapper and other species, currently uses “outdated modeling approaches” and fisheries independent monitoring programs that greatly underestimate stock size, particularly for species that associate with hard bottom features, as evidenced recently in a paper by noted red snapper expert Dr. Bob Shipp.

In his letter to Sen. Nelson, Donofrio wrote “RFA is requesting that you appeal to the Obama administration to suspend recreational closures for snapper and grouper until the primary recreational data collection program can be improved to such a level appropriate for management purposes and necessary advancements to the SEDAR process can be made.”

In April, the Pew Environmental Group launched a massive lobbying effort in Washington, D.C. to defeat the “Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009,” spearheading a letter on behalf of 44 conservation groups including Pew funding recipients like the Marine Fish Conservation Network, Oceana, the Ocean Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife.

“Many anti-fishing environmental groups who have lobbied against our efforts want to see the waters off of Florida in a condition more pristine than when Ponce de Leon sailed the coast – regardless of the negative impact on fishing businesses and coastal economies,” Donofrio said in his letter to Nelson.

More than 150 groups, organizations and businesses have come out in opposition to the Pew efforts, and signed on with the RFA to build support for HR 1584. Florida-based fishing groups calling for a limited flexibility amendment include: the Conservation Cooperative of Gulf Fishermen, Destin Charter Boat Association, Fishing Rights Alliance, Indian River Charter Boat Association, Marco Island Charter Captains Association, Panama City Boatmen Association, Pensacola Charterboat Association and South Atlantic Charterboat Association.

National groups lending support include National Association of Charterboat Operators and the Marine Retailers Association of America. “RFA is concerned that in the span of a few short years, we’ll lose too many anglers and too many businesses, while giving up far too many rights as Americans,” Donofrio summarized in his letter to Sen. Nelson. “We hope you are able to engage this issue and provide the anglers and fishing businesses of Florida some much needed assistance.”