Fishermen rally against federal catch limits

Washington (AP) – Fishermen and charter boat captains from
Massachusetts to Florida rallied outside the Capitol Wednesday to
demand changes to a federal fisheries law they say is killing jobs
and eroding fishing communities.

Participants in the ‘United We Fish” rally want to loosen
federal catch restrictions they say are severely damaging their
industry.

Bryan Lowery, of Tilghman Island, Md., said federal rules limit
him to 400 pounds of scallops a day. Instead of his usual 100
fishing trips, Lowery said he expects to take just nine trips this
year.

“They’ve just put us out of business,” he said, referring to the
National Marine Fisheries Service, which put limits on the
Mid-Atlantic scallop catch in order to recover vulnerable fish
stocks.

Lowery called the rules particularly frustrating now because
scallops are so plentiful near Ocean City, Md., where he fishes.
“There’s no scarceness of scallops,” he said.

Similar complaints were offered by cod fishermen off the
Massachusetts coast and those who fish for red snapper in the
Carolinas. In Gloucester, Mass., “you can walk on the cod,” said
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, one of the speakers at the lunchtime rally.

A rally organizer, Jim Hutchinson Jr. of the Recreational
Fishing Alliance, said the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the main federal
fisheries law, sets unrealistic fish stock recovery goals based on
flawed science, then imposes harsh cuts on fishermen once those
goals aren’t met.

Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator for fisheries at the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he was
encouraged at the rally turnout.

“It’s great to see so many recreational and commercial fishermen
all together,” Schwaab said, adding that he shares the fishermen’s
concerns about the need for flexibility in federal rules.

Schwaab defended the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which he said imposes
necessary requirements for science-based annual catch limits to end
overfishing on all stocks.

“Ending overfishing is the first step to allowing a fish stock
population to rebuild to a level where the stock can be fished
sustainably for the long term,” Schwaab said.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, say the government should allow
anglers greater flexibility while still setting overall catch
limits to protect vulnerable fish.

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