Ten years ago, more than 35 local fishermen boarded a charter bus at Capt. Anderson’s Marina on Panama City Beach for a marathon ride to Washington D.C. for the United We Fish march on the Capitol.


When the captains and deckhands from Destin, Panama City and Mexico Beach boarded the bus for the 18-hour trek, they had high hopes of getting more flexibility in fishing regulations and longer fishing seasons.


"(I’m) not sure that trip made a difference in and of itself," said Ken Creel, a Destin recreational fisherman who made the bus ride. "However I’m sure it played a part in the overall outcome.


"(It was) one of the first times the private and for-hire sectors came together," he added. "(It) proved that there is strength in cooperation. It was a tough three-day trip on a bus, but I would definitely do it again."


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By the busloads, fishermen from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and from Alaska to California came bearing signs, carrying banners and sporting stickers plastered on their shirts for the three-hour march. They pretty much all voiced the same opinion that the Magnuson Stevens Act, which was designed to regulate fish to sustainable levels, was broke.


The march was designed to try and catch the ear of congressmen that could help change those restrictive laws.


"At the time we were up there, we were unhappy with the direction the fishery management was going because they had decided to make it strictly science based and not take into consideration the fishermen’s economics and well-beings and things like that," said Capt. Mike Eller of the Lady Em, who was at the march.


Eller, who was co-chair of the Destin Charter Boat Association at the time, said they were looking for more leniency and wanted longer rebuilding time frames for the fisheries.


"They basically didn’t change anything that they were doing, so we had to change the direction that we were taking," Eller said.


The protest for leniency and rebuilding time didn’t work, so the fishermen since then have taken another tact. Out of it all came a movement called sector separation, which was led by Destin’s now mayor Gary Jarvis.


Sector separation is basically a split of the recreational fishery into two angler groups, the for-hire (which is made up of charter boats and party boats) and private anglers.


"Ultimately it has been way way better than us banging our head against the wall, which we had been doing for 20 years," Eller said.


As for the march, which drew more than 4,000 from all over the United States, it was an act of civil disobedience to try and get the attention of the congressmen.


"It was an accumulation of all of our pinned up frustrations because the season kept getting shorter and shorter and shorter," Eller said. "But it was people like Gary Jarvis and Billy Archer from Panama City that were carrying the torch (for sector separation) trying to get people to follow them.


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"It was time to change course and now it has gotten better for everybody," he added.


When asked if he’d go back and do it over again, Eller said, "Hell yeah ... it was a pretty awesome thing.


"I would do it again because it was an amazing show of solidarity. It gave us an opportunity to stomp the halls of Congress that day and the day before," Eller added, noting that he and Capt. Scott Robson went up and knocked on doors.


"I think we all would (go again) ... that’s just where we were," Eller said.


Capt. Ken Bolden of the Just B Cause, who was also on the bus, was glad he made the trek.


"I think we proved that the fishing industry is much larger and more vital to industry and not to be taken lightly," Bolden said. "We learned together ways to keep the industry going and still work to protect our resources for now and future generations."


As for the future, "there are a lot of things changing in the fishery service ... and finally we are getting some slowly, glacierly movement in the right direction but it all stems from we had to separate these two parts of the recreational fishery," Eller said.


Although there hasn’t been a march on D.C. by the fishermen since then, Destin and the Gulf Coast still has representation at the Capitol through the voices of Jarvis, Capt. Jim Green and Archer of Panama City.


"Their leadership continues to this day to work with Congress to make sure that we are represented and we are moving forward and not stagnated," Eller said.