Hundreds of fishermen from the Northeast rallied before the headquarters of federal fishery managers Friday to protest changes intended to prevent overfishing.
Speakers addressed the crowd before a display of two fishermen hanged by Jane Lubchenco, chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has charge over the fisheries service.
"The fishermen around me have found the courage to come together to stand up for our rights," said Driscoll, 39. "Perhaps it's time for NOAA to find the courage to sit down and listen."
Rally organizers said fishermen from Maine to Maryland made the trip to Gloucester, the setting for the book and movie "The Perfect Storm."
The rally comes as fishermen prepare for a switch to a "sector" management system by the May 1 start of the next fishing year. The current system, broadly considered a failure, has tried to stop overfishing by curbing fishing efforts, including steady cuts to fishing days at sea. Some fishermen have as few as 24 a year.
Goal is to help stocks recover
Under the new system, fishermen working together in sectors will divide and manage an allotted catch of individual species. The idea is to increase the autonomy of fishermen, allowing them to increase profits but holding them to strict catch limits that will help stocks recover.
But some fishermen say the new system is paving the way for smaller boats — the backbone of fishing communities like Gloucester — to be wiped out by turning fish stocks into a tradable commodity that bigger boats will scarf up. They say managers are wrongly giving sectors paltry catch allocations that many fishermen won't survive.
Fishermen also attacked the science behind the changes, saying it gives an inaccurately bleak picture of the fishery.
"Every year they keep adding more and more regulations to us, taking our days at sea away, restricting our access to different parts of the ocean, all on faulty science," said Chris Kairns, 40.
NOAA: Overfishing the issue
Pat Kurkul, NOAA's New England regional administrator, said the agency's fishery science is among the world's best and isn't what's causing the industry's pain.
"I think the real issue is that we've just been unable to eliminate overfishing," she said.
The government isn't trying to ruin fishing businesses, she said, it's trying to save them after decades of overfishing.
"We're working for healthy stocks so you can have a healthy fishing industry," Kurkul said. "But you can't have one without the other."