The winter storm of Jan. 29-30 that dumped millions of tons of snow, ice and freezing rain on North Carolina pretty much shut down fishing statewide. Weather forecasts predict more snow and ice across the upper half of the state starting late Thursday, February 5.

The only anglers with currently accessible fishable water are in southeastern N.C. or live next to a lake or river and have docks where they can walk to their boats. Otherwise it's simply too cold and dangerous to drive on icy roads. Half the state's school-age children have had a "snow" holiday since February 1.

With almost no fishing occurring, let's turn to a topic that should be of particular interest to saltwater anglers.

On Feb. 24, anglers from the New York to Florida will descend on Washington, D.C., for a noon-3 p.m. "United We Fish" rally at the Capitol steps to protest recent federal fishing closures.

The rally has been organized by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) in support of H.R. 1584, the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009. The bill, introduced last year by N.J. Democrat Frank Pallone, languished in committee until it was resubmitted this year. The new version has broad support from many coastal-state co-sponsors, including N.C.'s Walter Jones Jr.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced a companion bill (S. 1255) in the U.S. Senate.

Pallone's bill is designed to correct inflexible saltwater fisheries closures created by stringent time tables for fish stock recoveries built into the Magnuson Stevens Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

The RFA claims the MSA is outdated because it calls for coast-wide closures of fisheries if some species are deemed to be overfished at any one area. MSA rules also force regional fisheries councils to close down coastwide fisheries, even if some species are plentiful and shortened seasons or changed bag limits would conserve fish while still allowing some recreational and commercial fishing.

"The closures keep coming, and it's good to see the collective fishing communities and industries, both recreational and commercial, calling for scientific-based Magnuson reform," said Jim Donofrio, RFA executive director. "We are all in this together."

Donofrio cited recent closures of amberjack, black sea bass and red snapper fisheries as examples of what he called a "broken" federal fisheries law.

The United We Fish rally hopes to show legislators how many American anglers and business owners are being impacted by overly restrictive management requirements created by MSA based on non-scientific arbitrary deadlines.

According to Bob Zales of the Conservation Cooperative of Gulf Fishermen, the time-specific deadlines mandated by MSA, coupled with flawed data-collection methods, are forcing anglers off the water.

"We fully support real science-based management and the conservation of our marine resources while also being able to sustain recreational and commercial fishing activities, providing locally-caught seafood, sustaining small family businesses and supporting our coastal communities," Zales said.

Other fishermen's groups supporting the rally include United Boatmen of New York, United Boatmen of New Jersey, New York Sportfishing Federation, Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, and the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund.

"This is much bigger than any one state issue or individual grievance," said RFA managing director Jim Hutchinson Jr. "Whether it's our restrictive fluke fishery in New York, the arbitrary closure of state waters for anglers in California or the shutdown of red snapper and amberjack down south, our community has been divided by preservationist tactics for too long. It's time to unite the clans in defense of our coastal heritage and traditions."

Ocean Isle Fishing Center (910-575-FISH) is sponsoring a charter bus to carry N.C. anglers to the rally. The bus will leave OIFC (65 Causeway Drive, Ocean Isle Beach) at 4 a.m., Feb. 24, and return that same night. The only cost for participants will be their meals.