The second Washington, DC rally in the last couple of years came off without a hitch and definitely gave both the recreational and commercial fisher people an update on where our organizations have progressed.
The United We Fish rally was a joint effort by commercial and recreational organizations intent on heightening our efforts and brings fishery reforms to fruition. It worked!
Some of the biggest names in both the House and Senate began to speak about ten minutes after noon, taking time from their valuable schedules to inform their constituents the progression of fishing related bills in both the House and Senate. Carrying the themes of reauthorizing Magnuson to the ridding NOAA of management personnel, it seemed they were well informed on the issues, our proposals, and their total disgust with current fishery management. All the work the fishing community has done finally has paid off. No, we’re not done yet but we’ve certainly made up a lot of ground and in a short period of time. Two years in Washington time is like a month to us.
There are currently three bills sitting in the House and Senate waiting to go to committee. It is my opinion that we are so close but just need a nudge. There is House Resolution HR3061, which we call the Pallone bill. Next we have Senate Bill S.632, which we refer to the Schumer bill. Finally, we have Senate Bill 1916, which is Bill Nelson’s bill.
There seems to be support for Nelson, which is also supported by the Sportsman Caucus, a group of Congressional people both elected and appointed who walk around patting each other on the back.
We are in favor of the first two because of one vital element: flexibility.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), started the afternoon by telling rally attendees that great progress has been made on rebuilding coastal fisheries, but explained that a “one-size-fits-all approach to fisheries management” based on bad science won’t work. “Today I am calling on Congress to begin hearings on Magnuson reform this year and I will be making a major push to see that that happens, not next year, not two years from now but this year,” Sen. Schumer said, adding “We need to have an open and honest debate on the flexibility bill.”
Schumer went on to say that he would be talking to his colleagues on the Commerce Committee about starting a debate on the reauthorization of Magnuson as soon as possible, “so that your voices can be heard, not just outside the Capitol but inside at a hearing table in the Capitol.” The senator from New York even returned to Upper Senate Park a second time, after an important Congressional vote, just to greet a late bus arriving from Montauk after two o’clock.
Other Senate supporters of the flexibility legislation speaking at Wednesday’s rally included Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC). Hagan has also signed on to the Nelson Bill so we really don’t quite understand her position.
Brown was extremely passionate. “It’s out of control. What does it take to get fired at NOAA? When I held a hearing, one of the first hearings in Boston, I asked that important question and I’m still waiting for an answer. We need to have [NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco fired. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” Sen. Scott Brown said to the delight of the cheering crowd. “This is about people. It’s about eating safe food. It’s providing good jobs. It’s about protecting the environment and we need to work together.”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), primary sponsor of HR3061 on the House side called the Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act, told attendees that his bill would allow fisheries managers to put fish stocks on a sustainable path to a healthy size while allowing fair access and increasing transparency in the scientific process that determines quota levels.
“Current fishery rebuilding plans are much too rigid, which hurts fishing communities economically,” said Pallone. “The fishing business has been a way of life for generations on the New Jersey shore and is integral to our economy. In New Jersey alone, commercial and recreational fishing supports nearly 50,000 jobs.”
“I’m proud to join with recreational and commercial fishermen to fight for this bill,” said Pallone, adding “I believe it would address burdensome catch limits and protect fishermen jobs, while ensuring that our fisheries remain sustainable for generations to come.”
HR3061, which would also require better data collection for managing recreational fishing, picked up additional support yesterday when speakers Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) and Rep. Allen B. West (R-FL) officially signed on as co-sponsors.
“This is a freedom issue,” said co-sponsor Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) on stage at Upper Senate Park on Wednesday. “You have a God-given right to participate in an activity that your fathers participated in, your grandfathers participated in, and the founding fathers participated in.”
Rep. Southerland who has helped champion the rights of saltwater fishermen along the Gulf Coast during his first term in DC told Florida fishermen at the rally that he was committed to working with fishermen to fix Magnuson “to make the changes to this law that is unjust.”
Other co-sponsors of HR3061 addressing the crowd on Wednesday included Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), and Rep. Robert Turner (R-NY). Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ) and Rep. William Keating (D-MA) spoke with regard to their support for Magnuson reform legislation, while other congressmen like Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), and Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) also pledged support for the fishermen.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) also made a big splash with rally attendees by telling them, “I am sorry, and I am angry that you folks have to leave jobs, take time, spend money, come here to Washington to get people to understand how deeply we feel about this issue.” Sen. Kerry who last month told the Gloucester Times that additional flexibility is needed to help our fishermen added, “We’re here to fight for jobs and for justice.”
RFA Director Jim Donofrio said, “More than 30 organizations and businesses from both the commercial and recreational sector spent two months preparing for the national rally at Upper Senate Park in Washington.” he went on explaining how those involved in this year’s effort took a more unique strategy this time around.
“With about 5,000 attendees at the park at any one time in 2010, this year many of our rally attendees branched off to visit Senate and Congressional offices during the actual Upper Senate Park protest, which helped build support for Magnuson reform efforts inside the legislative offices,” he said. “Now it’s up to each of these organizations to follow up on those dedicated efforts in Washington, DC this week to make sure that Congress understands what’s really important to our coastal communities.”
In the days leading up to the rally, extreme environmental groups funded heavily by the Pew Charitable Trusts and its Pew Environment Group went on the offensive in attacking RFA and supporters of pragmatic Magnuson reform. In an online attack at Outdoorhub.com, Marine Fish Conservation Network’s Executive Director Matt Tinning called RFA a “fringe group” like an extremist super PAC that is “underwritten by a single large donor, [and] a few self-appointed leaders hunch over their laptops and bombard us with bile.”
Donofrio called the hit by Pew’s newest hired henchman “a badge of honor” for the entire organization. “The anti-fishing, anti-industry lobbyists from the preservation community are running scared because Congress is finally aware of what they’ve done to our coastal fishing communities with their hostile takeover attempt of our inshore waters by helping re-write the Magnuson Stevens Act in 2006.” He added that House Members are aware that much of the information provided by Pew-funded lobbyists has been erroneous, based solely on doom and gloom scare tactics designed to spur their own recruitment campaigns and donation efforts. “One only needs to look at their now-proven false arguments against the use of the flexibility in the summer flounder fishery back in 2007 to see that they are dead wrong on Magnuson reform,” he added.
RFA said that Pew attempted to divert attention from the rally through a late legislative effort late last week, but their effort was exposed in a March 20th article in the Gloucester Times. RFA pointed out that Tinning’s eleventh-hour online social media tirades are obviously less about fishing and more about orchestrated political grandstanding on behalf of his employers at Pew.
Prior to joining the Pew-funded Marine Fish Conservation Network last year, Tinning was Legislative Director and Vice President of External affairs at Ocean Conservancy and a lobbyist and political analyst for the Australian Government inside their Washington Embassy. Tinning was also a legislative aide to New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman. Before arriving in the United States in the 1990s, Tinning was an attorney in Sydney where he earned his degree in U.S. politics.
Five different conservation groups initially united to form the Marine Fish Conservation Network in 1992, including Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, National Coalition for Marine Conservation, and World Wildlife Fund. Following the 2010 fishermen’s rally which helped bring the plight of the recreational and commercial fishing industry to the forefront of the fisheries debate in DC, Pew’s Lee Crockett told the Washington based Roll Call newspaper that his organization had “funded advocacy groups, including the Marine Fish Conservation Network and the Ocean Conservancy, “to lobby for a policy which privatizes our nation’s fisheries in the name of reducing overall fishing participation.”
“Congress is going to address the problems with the federal fisheries law, or more of our access rights as anglers will be stripped away while coastal tackle shops, charter and party boats, and shore side businesses will close,” Donofrio said. “It seems to me to be a pretty easy choice to make.”
Will we need a third rally? Let’s hope not. We will keep reporting on how things progress. Let’s hope progress is swift, but always remember Washington does everything at a snail’s pace.
Congratulations to all who took their time to participate and especially those who walked the halls of the House and Senate and spoke to their representatives.
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