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Thousands protest federal fishing restrictions

Thousands of fishermen converged on the nation's capitol Wednesday to defend their right to fish and ask the federal government for more flexible rules until scientific data can prove stricter regulations are needed.

"We are not going to lose this one, because we are going to persist," U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said from the dais, according to media reports.

In a statement, Mica said legislation he introduced would delay fishery bans, but it was "stonewalled in Congress by the Administration and Maritime Council."

"I am shocked and disappointed that the Administration would impose these economically damaging polices, especially during this time of distress and with so many Americans already out of work," he said.

Fishermen from several Atlantic states turned up to blast federal bans on red snapper, grouper and other species that feed their livelihoods. They shouted, "Where's the data?" and waved signs that read, "United We Fish" and "I Fish. I Vote."

The National Marine Fisheries Service proposes banning commercial and recreational fishing for all 73 managed snapper and grouper species.

The ban makes the species off limits in federal waters from Florida to the Carolinas.

A red snapper ban went in effect on an interim basis last month and lasts through June. But the federal fisheries service can extend the ban another six months as it considers a year-round ban that also would apply to grouper and would stay in effect until red snapper rebound.

The council would ban fishing for the other species as a way to prevent bycatch of red snapper.

The final vote on the longer-term ban is expected later this year.

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