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Fishermen Object to New Trawling Rules

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Hook-and-line fishermen say the government handed over 90 percent of the Pacific groundfish catch to the trawling industry in a "wholesale abandonment" of congressional plans to conserve ocean life. The fishermen say the feds did it in a boneheaded implementation of a new amendment to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations sued Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Federal Court.

The plaintiffs, which include the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, say the federal agencies amended the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan without proper consideration.

The two new amendments give priority to the "efficiency and profitability" of trawling, rather than conservation of fishery resources and fishing communities, the fishermen say.

The association says it represents more than 700 men and women who gather bottom-dwelling fish such as flounder and cod, as well as crabs using traps or hook-and-line systems.

The new plan would lock in the dominance of trawling, which uses huge nets on the ocean floor to pull up vast tracts of ocean life, despite of a congressional mandate to prioritize fishing communities, the association says.

Huge trawling nets kill many "non-target species," the fishermen say, and damage fish habitat.

Hook and line fishing and crab traps zero in on the intended species and result in "minimal to no environment damage," according to the complaint.

The new plan flies in the face of congressional requirements mandating participation of fishing communities in the allocation of quota shares, the association says.

The Fishery and Conservation Act requires Locke to consider "current and historical participation of fishing communities," and "the basic cultural and social framework of the fishery, especially through the development of policies to promote the sustained participation of small owner-operated fishing vessels and fishing communities that depend on the fisheries." It also must "include measures to assist fishing communities through set-asides of harvesting allocations," according to the complaint.

Instead, Locke approved two amendments to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act that were drafted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional management councils in the U.S., without considering whether the amendments were consistent with the main thrust of the act, the fishermen say.

The association demands an order revoking the two new amendments to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The fishermen's lead counsel are Mark White and Andrea Kendrick with Chapman Popik & White.

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