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Mar 2, 2010 8:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Fishermen to Washington: Help us or we won't survive

Mar 2, 2010 8:11 PM

Captain Mike Albronda has been a fisherman since he was 14 years old, but this is the first year he can remember when he might not be able to make a living running charters off Montauk.

Captain Paul Forsberg, who owns the Viking Fleet of charter boats in Montauk, has had to let employees go because he can no longer justify the additions to his 60-person workforce due to a perfect storm of tightening regulations and a downturn in leisure spending because of the economy.

Brad Loewen, a commercial fisherman and former East Hampton Town councilman who sets fish traps in Gardiners Bay, can barely bring in enough money from selling his fish at the market to justify risking his life in the open waters every day.

All of these men, and more than 100 more from the East End, boarded buses in Montauk, Southampton and Manorville in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, February 24, for a trip to Washington, D.C., where several thousand fishermen from across the nation converged just north of the Capitol in a protest against what they see as the unfair and arbitrary federal fishing regulations of the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The group was a rare consortium of commercial and recreational fishermen, known as “United We Fish,” whose leaders said that now was the time for both sides of the industry, who long have had a testy relationship, to unite for the sake of their livelihood.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York and U.S. Representative Frank Palone of New Jersey both recently sponsored legislation in both houses of Congress, the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act, which would give fishermen a greater voice in the conservation of a resource they depend on.

“There is no group that is more environmental than fishermen. You’re the ones out there trying to protect the species,” Representative Palone told the crowd. “The most important sign I see out there is ‘I fish and I vote.’ That’s the only thing people understand in this place.”

He was joined on stage by more than two dozen members of both houses of Congress from both parties, as well as state representatives who all pledged to help fishermen.

“We are going to fix this problem and we are going to put you back to work,” Representative Tim Bishop, who represents eastern Long Island, told the crowd.

Captain Forsberg, of the Viking Fleet, organized the East End trip to the rally. He and many other fishermen, congressmen and industry representatives said that they are baffled by increased regulations at a time when many fish stocks appear to be rebounding.

“There’s more fish in the ocean every year, and fishermen are allowed to catch less,” he said. “The word is optimal yield. Fluke and black sea bass have rebounded. Cod’s better than it’s been in 50 years. The government admits that porgies are rebuilt to 180 percent of sustainable levels.”

“They admit to that, so it’s probably 300 percent,” chimed in Captain Richie Nessel, also of Montauk.

“Most of the time law enforcement doesn’t know what they’re doing. We have to educate them,” said Captain Forsberg. “We need all the help we can get so the senators and congressmen listen up. It’s a crime.”

“When you go blackfishing, you can’t see through the sea bass to see them,” said Captain Scott Schafer of Montauk. “They need to raise the limits of fish and make the seasons longer.”

Captain Schafer said that New York’s institution of a saltwater fishing license last October, which costs each captain $400 per year, added to the strain on fishermen already struggling because so many fisheries were closed, despite the fact that they have reported seeing plenty of fish in the water.

Not far away from the captains, Chelsea Hennings of Montauk, who was wearing a hand-painted T-shirt that read “Fish feed families,” said she was concerned that her family might not be able to continue its way of life. “I’m worried that we won’t get to fish as much, and about jobs being lost,” she said.

“What I found extremely significant about the whole rally was the numbers of fishermen, both commercial and recreational, who were willing to make that trip,” said East Hampton Town Fisheries Consultant Arnold Leo, who boarded one of the buses in Southampton just after 4 a.m. “The number of people really attests to the fact that we are in a crisis about the survival of these old fishing communities. To get that many people at a rally in Washington, D.C., attests to fact that the crisis is really serious.”

Alone on the other side of the crowd, Captain Albronda stood holding a sign that read “Montauk fishermen: Another lost colony.”

“On October 5, after they charged us $400 for the license, they closed the sea bass on us,” he said. “I’ve seen everything, but never have we had more problems than now, because of improper data. Normally, I have 30 to 40 trips on the books by now. This year, I have two. What will they be able to catch? We don’t know when the seasons are going to be or if the fisheries will be open.

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tough making ends meet. gee there is something you don't hear much of these days.
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Feb 25, 10 2:39 PM
Fishermen? Please be specific. You are party boat operators and recreational "fishermen" who sell your catch illegally. Is that what the t-shirt "Fish Feed Families" means? Aren't you the guys who put the commercial guys out of business? Aren't you the ones who lobbied to have haul seining outlawed? Talk to those guys who counted on Striped Bass much like you depend on your "deposits". Talk to those guys who have been fishing for generations Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, following finfish, ...more
By clamdigger (83), Quogue on Feb 25, 10 5:30 PM
2 members liked this comment
Read the article genius...it says the rally and movement included recreational and commercial fisherman. Stop relying on past differences and try to find common ground or ALL fishing will be lost.

As the saying goes......if youre not part of the solution........you know the rest.
By tm (174), mtk on Feb 26, 10 10:47 AM
2 members liked this comment