Hundreds of Long Island fishermen are expected to join thousands of East and Gulf Coast anglers in Washington next week at a rally to protest federal fishery management policies they say threaten commercial and recreational activities.
The fishermen say that while some species such as porgies and black sea bass are rebounding, the federal catch limits continue to decrease. They add that bad policy based on bad science threatens to put commercial captains out of business and curtail recreational fishing.
The rally outside the Capitol at noon Wednesday is being organized by a group called United We Fish, and local fishing groups are chartering buses. Speakers will include Sen. Charles Schumer, who is sponsoring legislation that would give federal fisheries managers more flexibility when rebuilding depleted fish stocks, and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton.)
"We need to get federal fisheries law fixed because it's broken," said Jim Hutchinson Jr. of Forest Hills, managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a lobbying group helping to organize the rally. "This is the first time in the history of fisheries management that recreational fishermen and the commercial fishermen are going to stand side-by-side in a unified effort."
The fishermen are at odds with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over their refusal to increase fishing quotas. Federal officials have said they will not boost quotas until the populations have increased to be sustainable. Currently, federal fish estimates are based primarily on dockside surveys and questionnaires sent to fishermen, which the anglers say are inefficient and outdated.
In fact, the amount of fish in Long Island waters has already increased even as strict federal catch limits are tightened, said Capt. Paul Forsberg, owner of Montauk's Viking Fleet of fishing party boats. "The fish population is growing higher and higher and we are being allowed to catch less and less," he said.
"We need better science and more flexibility in our fishing management regulations," Schumer said.
Said Bishop, "We need to get an allocation in New York that is based on sound science and is equitable to the other states with which we share the Atlantic coast."
Rick Cohen, 49, of Oceanside, who operates a recreational fishing boat out of Freeport, said he'll attend the rally because the government's quotas are based on "a guy walking around the dock asking people how many fish they caught. It's completely arbitrary."
Teri Frady, spokeswoman for NOAA, which administers fisheries regulations set by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, said, "NOAA is keenly interested in any way that we can make management more effective and in balancing what the stocks can and will produce and on the socio-economic side what's going to work for communities."
What LI fishermen want:
Passage of the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009, which Sen. Charles Schumer is sponsoring in the Senate. Backers say it will remedy shortcomings of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, last updated in 2007.