By Valerie Garman
Young Jacob Glantzman from Wall, N.J., carried a sign Wednesday that posed an innocent question: "Jesus was a fisherman, why can't I be?"
Jacob is part of the fifth generation of a fishing family, a tradition anglers from coastal states across the country gathered to protect on the lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
The Keep Fishermen Fishing Rally was held in an effort to protect the rights of families like Jacob's whose livelihood depends on access to U.S. fisheries. The ultimate goal was to spark an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law governing fisheries regulations in the U.S. that fishermen say is singlehandedly pushing many American fishing families out of the business.
About 1,000 people gathered to protect their livelihood, their culture, their jobs and their recreation, according to a rally organizers.
Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, presented the underlying issue as very simple. "This is a freedom issue," he repeated throughout his brief speech.
"You have a God-given right to participate in an activity that your fathers participated in, your grandfathers participated in, the founding fathers participated in," Southerland said. "As long as I'm privileged by the men and women of Florida's Second Congressional District, I will never waver in fighting for your rights and fighting for your freedoms."
Southerland, whose family has lived in Northwest Florida for more than 200 years, portrayed the regulation issue as an attack on the American family.
"This isn't just an attack on you, the fishermen," Southerland said. "In many ways this is an attack on our families."
Southerland, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the Magnuson-Stevens Act is unjust and must be amended.
"As a little boy getting on a boat and going through the pass with my dad, spending the day on the water with my siblings, with my brother and my sister," Southerland said. "Coming back with fresh seafood, not only did we meet our family's needs in eating that seafood, we took care of the next generation."
Florida District 22 Rep. Allen West pulled Jacob Glantzman on stage during his speech as the basis for what they were fighting for.
"This is what it's all about-- you're the reason we're all here," West said. "So that this young man can step up like his father and forefathers did."
West said strict government regulations from NOAA are shattering the ability for children to follow in their parents' footsteps.
"When you look at it, it's not just fishermen, it's also farmers," West said. "We are destroying the next generation of entrepreneurs in this country. That's what we're here for. Washington, D.C., with its onerous regulations, is crushing the American dream."
Southerland and West joined more than 20 other congressmen and senators who spoke at the rally in the hopes of pushing for an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act within the next year and other bills like the Flexibility and Access of Rebuilding Fisheries Act.
Five representatives from Florida spoke, as well as senators and congressmen from coastal states, including New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, South Carolina, North Carolina and Rhode Island.
South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott sang a song for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association President Jane Lubchenco, "Hit the road Jack, and don't cha come back!"
New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo promised to get NOAA out of the anglers' boats and bait boxes. He said there are two types of people in this country, those that live by the water and those who wish they did.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry promised more sound science in fishery research and no further regulations from bureaucrats who have never set foot on a boat.
"I am sorry and I am angry that you folks have to leave jobs, take time, spend money to come here to Washington to get people to realize how deeply we feel about this issue," Kerry said. "We're here to fight for jobs and justice."
There were many speakers, but the common goal remained the same: to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act and provide more flexibility, and open and reasonable access to sustainable fisheries.
The anglers came from across the country: on buses from Panama City and Jacksonville, and planes from Alaska, from Cape Cod, Mass., the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Cape Canaveral and Staten Island, N.Y.
They held signs boldly stating, "Save the fishermen! Save our jobs! Put flexibility back in Magnuson! United we fish! Protect fishermen, not just fish!"
Bob Zales is the president of the National Charterboat Association and the Panama City Boatman's Association, two organizations that helped put the rally together, and is also the owner of Zodiac Charters in Panama City.
"The economy has prevented a lot of people from coming up," Zales said. "In my hometown of Panama City, it's Spring Break down there and these people, they need the work. We're going to be able to survive in our way of life and enjoy fishing."
Zales noted while there were far more people at the 2010 rally, there were four times as many congressional representatives at this rally, which he described as the key to fueling the change.
Zales said the previous rally in 2010 brought about 5,000 fishermen from the commercial, charter and recreational sectors together for the first time and he hopes they will all continue to band together to fight for change.
"The primary purpose is to try and get the message to Congress that we've got to have relief," Zales said. "We've got to have flexibility in the Magnuson Act."
Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the organization that sponsored the rally, said the 2010 rally helped spark eight bills in the House and Senate, and he is hoping this year's rally will help fuel more action in Washington.
"It's been easier than you can imagine," Donofrio said of organizing the rally. "It's a whole array of different interests from the recreational and commercial sector. What really galvanizes us and makes it all work is that we're all suffering from access to our nation's healthy fish stocks."
Donofrio said the rally has helped spread interest among the lawmakers whose support is needed to make the changes the anglers are rallying for.
"In a place where progress is slow, we're making great progress so we're happy."