Monday, March 27, 2017

PRFC Declines to Nix Potomac River Water Grab

Potomac River Fisheries Commission declines to take a position, despite watermen's concerns
After nearly three hours of discussion and debate, the eight-member panel defeated a motion by one of its members, Maryland waterman Billy Rice, which objected to any sanctuary in the mainstem of the river, where the commission regulates fishing.

Watermen have raised an outcry against the proposal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to designate the first marine sanctuary in the Chesapeake Bay region. If approved, it would protect the remains of nearly 200 historic ships sunk in the Potomac, the bulk of them a “ghost fleet” of wooden-hulled vessels in Mallows Bay that were built to aid the United States’ entry into World War I a century ago. A few wrecks date back to the Civil and even Revolutionary wars.

NOAA announced in January that it favored creating a 52-square-mile sanctuary to safeguard the river’s maritime heritage. But it sought public feedback on four options, including a smaller, 18-square-mile area, a larger, 100-square mile area and doing nothing at all. The deadline for comments is March 31.

Federal officials have said they have no plans to curb fishing in the sanctuary, only to preserve and highlight the historic wrecks. But watermen, leery of NOAA’s role in regulating fisheries elsewhere, have expressed skepticism, noting that under the federal marine sanctuary law, the agency could always change its mind later. A trio of advisory groups to the Potomac fisheries commission urged the panel to oppose the sanctuary, or to recommend it be limited to Mallows Bay and a narrow band of water along the Maryland shoreline.

“Once you turn this (river) over to NOAA, it becomes federal and you never get it back,” warned Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. “Why would we want to give up our sovereignty?”

Paul “Sammy” Orlando, NOAA's liaison for the proposed sanctuary, acknowledged that the agency could change its management every five years. But he noted that the proposal now spells out that there is no intent to regulate fishing in the Potomac.
It's shocking what can happen when a new President discovers he has a pen and a phone.

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