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Anglers stage protest!

(Your congressman's number listed below)

Charter captains, recreational anglers, coastal businesses and commercial fishermen from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana sent a powerful message to elected officials and federal fishery regulators on Nov. 7.

Hundreds of boats and thousands of anglers held an “On The Water Protest” of the overly-restrictive Magnuson-Stevens Act deadlines, bad data, flawed formulas and the devastating manner federal agencies are using all of the above to regulate fishermen off the water and ruin fishing-related businesses.

Nearly 100 boats turned out to protest in Destin, and another 80 demonstrated in Orange Beach, Alabama, with fog horns blaring for two hours as motorists traveling over the Perdido Pass Bridge honked in support and numerous supporters lined the railing.

Sixty boats motored through St. Andrews Bay as fellow anglers protested from Hathaway Bridge in Panama City, while 40 more boats sent a clear message to lawmakers just down the coast in Mexico Beach.

Many carried homemade signs reading, “Get The Data Right,” “No More MRFSS Data,” “We want our Red Snapper back,” “Pass HR 1584 & S-1255,” “Rebuild the Fishery AND Save the Fishermen,” “Say NO to Catch Shares,” “Save My Daddy’s Job” and “Count Fish, Use Real Data.”

Organizers say the movement is finally getting national attention and gaining momentum as millions of anglers and businesses realize the rigid rebuilding deadlines and fishing closures will put many out of business and further hurt the struggling economy.

“Congress is the only fix to our problem at this point,” said Capt. Bob Zales, a longtime advocate of recreational fishing and executive director of the Conservation Cooperative of Gulf Fishermen (CCGF) and National Association of Charterboat Operators (NACO).

“Thousands turned out to let our elected officials know that people matter too. Congress can save the people while protecting the resource,” Zales added. The reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) passed by Congress in 2007 mandates the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stop overfishing of all fish species by 2010.

But, Congress also mandated the NMFS implement an improved Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) data collections system by January 2009.

Despite the fact that “best available science” and goals to restore stocks to disputed “historical levels” have been called into question, the NMFS is moving full speed ahead with closures of snapper, grouper and amberjack on Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

Meanwhile, NOAA and NMFS seem to be floating dead in the water when it comes to complying with a mandate to implement an improved data system or section of the MSA that states that the economic and social impact of any new rules should be taken into consideration.

“The unintended impacts of the Congressional mandates has caused severe economic and social harm to small family fishing businesses, anglers, support businesses, local fishing communities and the coastal states,” Zales said.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of red snapper has been reduced from 9.12 million pounds to 5 million pounds, the recreational bag limit cut from 4 fish to 2 fish, and the red snapper fishing season reduced from 6 months to 30 days or less for 2010.

The greater amberjack recreational fishery was suddenly closed on Oct. 23 with five days notice. The commercial fishery was closed on Nov. 6. The recreational gag grouper fishery now has a two-month (Feb.-March) closure and the bag limit has been slashed from 5 fish to 2 fish.

In the South Atlantic (from North Carolina to the Florida Keys), the red snapper fishery has been targeted to be shut down completely within the next few months, the grouper fishery is facing a 4-month or longer closure, and the recreational bag limit has been reduced to 1 fish per person.

The recreational vermilion snapper fishery now has a 5-month closure and the bag limit has been cut to 5 fish.

Massive area fishery closures are proposed in the South Atlantic area. The recreational sea bass fishery in the North East was shut down on Oct. 5. “We’re in a 30-year rebuilding plan for red snapper. What’s causing our problems in the Southeast is the goal to end overfishing by 2010,” NMFS Southeast Regional Director Roy Crabtree said. “Only Congress can change that.”

That is exactly what fishermen are asking Congress to do with House of Representatives Bill (HR 1584) and Senate Bill (SB 1255). “We need Congress to amend both bills to relax the overly-restrictive ‘overfishing’ requirements and pass both bills. Relaxing the ‘overfishing’ requirements of the MSA will allow the NMFS to ease up on the regulations and will keep the small family businesses, their families, and communities sustainable while allowing the fisheries to rebuild,” Zales said.

According to Fishing Rights Alliance (FRA) Legislative Chair Kurt Theodore, Florida Congressman Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-09) has announced he will co-sponsor HR 1584. “This is a step in the right direction. It is important that fisherman who live in districts where their congressmen have NOT co-sponsored this bill contact their representatives ASAP! Urge them to support HR 1584.

“Inform them the current management is destroying the economy and angling in our state. It is important future generations be able to fish. Tell them how important Florida’s fishing heritage is. We need more co-sponsors on this important bill,” Theodore added.

The phone and fax numbers for all Florida congressional delegates can be found on this page.

A new red snapper stock assessment is due in 2010, but many say recent assessments prove the data used does not accurately reflect fish stocks.