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Fishermen to rally in DC as industry struggles

Kerry, Brown to speak in D.C.

Fishermen from New England to California plan to rally for their struggling industry in Washington, D.C., next week with an election year message for Congress: Helping the fishing industry will save jobs.

Organizers expect a roster of lawmakers, including Senators John F. Kerry and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, to speak before about 5,000 commercial and recreational fishermen in a park next to the US Capitol on Wednesday.

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The crowd is expected to include fishermen from all the Atlantic coast states. plus Alaska and California.

They represent diverse interests who chase a mix of species and have not always agreed. But Jim Donofrio, head of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, a rally organizer, said they share concerns that federal regulators are using flawed science to make cutbacks that are killing fishing jobs around the country.

In an election year when jobs are a dominant issue, Donofrio said he hopes the rally’s calls reach new corners on Capitol Hill and prompt action on legislation fishermen believe can help.

“This election is being defined by jobs right now, and this is a jobs issue,’’ Donofrio said.

Sam Rauch, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries arm, agreed that fishing jobs are a key concern. But he said the recent numbers on fishing jobs show progress. According to the most recent statistics, the number of fishing-related jobs in the United States increased from 1 million to 1.2 million between 2009 and 2010.

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But Rauch said he knows the growth has not been felt everywhere. In New England, for instance, fishermen are facing a possible fishery collapse in 2013 because of the too-slow recovery of cod in the Gulf of Maine.

Rauch said he welcomes whatever views are shared at the rally. “It’s good to have a constituency that cares so much about the future of fishing in this country,’’ he said.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance helped host a similar event in Washington two years ago, which Donofrio said increased the visibility of key legislation that can help fishermen. This time, he said, he hopes lawmakers can be spurred to finally act on it.

He pointed to a bill by Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, that is introduced regularly but never goes anywhere. The bill would ease fish catch cutbacks by giving fishermen more time to rebuild struggling species.

Jim Hutchinson, managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said it also contains underappreciated reforms, such as allowing the commerce secretary to suspend tough catch limits on various species, if the science does not justify those limits.

Fishermen repeatedly complain that wildly shifting estimates of the health of fish populations lead to huge cuts and lost jobs. They say Gulf of Maine cod, thought to be robust just four years ago, is just the latest example. “The arrogance becomes astounding,’’ said Tina Jackson, president of the American Alliance of Fishermen and their Communities.

“If this rally says anything, it’s to tell NOAA we’re not asking you to be accountable anymore . . . we’re demanding it,’’ said Jackson, who is organizing a busload of fishermen from New England to travel to Washington.

Donofrio said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, is also expected to speak.

Bob Jones, of the Florida-based Southeastern Fisheries Association, said resistance from groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund makes it tough to move stalled fisheries legislation. But he thinks the rally can help.

“If I wasn’t an optimist, I wouldn’t stay in this business,’’ he said.

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