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Commercial Fishermen form National Group

by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
ESPN Outdoors, December 2, 2005

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Long splintered into small groups, commercial fishermen are putting together a national organization to promote their image and press their interests before Congress.

The Commercial Fishermen of America announced its formation in mid-November in Seattle and hopes to be up and running by spring. The David & Lucille Packard Foundation, which funds marine conservation programs, provided a $50,000 startup grant.

"Given that politics is just becoming ever more omnipresent and unavoidable, we felt it was high time we got organized to represent the interests of all fishermen at a national level," said Jeremy Brown, a salmon and albacore troller from Bellingham, Wash., who is serving on the organizing committee.

Until now, one of the main national advocacy groups for the fishing industry in Washington, D.C., has been the National Fisheries Institute, which represents seafood processors, restaurants and distributors.

But Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said the group does not adequately represent the fishermen.

"Their concerns are very different from those of the fishermen, in some instances 180 degrees apart," he said.

A national organization, the Seafood Coalition, represents both fishermen and processors around the country, said Pete Leipzig, executive director of the Fishermen's Marketing Association in Eureka, Calif.

However, the newly proposed group would focus on fisherman's issues.

National issues facing commercial fishermen include reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act, the primary federal law governing fisheries management. Other issues include health care and workers compensation, pollution and protecting port facilities.

Since 1990, annual commercial fisheries landings of all species in the U.S. have remained static at about 10 billion pounds worth about $3.6 billion, according to the Web site of the NOAA Fisheries Service, the federal agency that overseas ocean fishing.

Traditional fisheries such as the groundfish off the West Coast and the cod off of New England have seen dramatic cutbacks as part of efforts to halt population declines from overfishing.

Meanwhile, aquaculture is competing with fishermen to provide fish such as salmon and shrimp, and imports of edible fish were up nearly $1 billion to $11.1 billion from 2002 to 2003.

Besides the practical problems facing commercial fishermen, Brown said the public by and large does not have an accurate understanding of what they do.

"What we want to focus on from the outset is to promote the notion of the professional fisherman and the quality food he provides to the consumer," Brown added.

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Commercial Fishermen form National Group
ESPN Outdoors, December 2, 2005

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