BOSTON — State Attorney General Martha Coakley has filed suit against the federal Natonal Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, charging that NOAA wrongly failed to consider the “devastating economic impact” on fishing communities when it set crippling new catch limits on Gloucester and other Massachusetts fishermen.
Speaking during a press conference this afternoon at the Boston state fish pier, Coakley said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. DIstrict Court, is aimed at blocking the new regulations and catch limits “that threaten the industry” from being enforced or implemented, and calls for other relief to mitigate the impact.
The lawsuit argues that NOAA has “used flawed science to over-restrict the Massachusetts fishing industry,” and has shown “callous disregard for the well-being of New England fishermen” in the process.
A provision of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that NOAA and its New England Fishery Management Council consider the impact on fishing communities when crafting any reforms to federal fishery regulations. Also, the Department of Commerce last September recognized the Northeast groundfishery as an “economic disaster,” but neither NOAA, Commerce nor Congress has directed or appropriated any money to address it.
The lawsuit comes nearly under a month into new catch limits that took effect May 1 and cut fishermen’s allowable catch of several stocks by up to 78 percent for Gulf of Maine cod, and it comes amid reports of Gloucester fishermen laying off crew members and at least one who reported putting his house up for sale this past week.
Coakley had previously filed a legal opinion finding that, contrary to the view of NOAA chief counsel Lois Schiffer, NOAA Northeast Administrator John Bullard has the legal flexibility to extend a previous set of interm quota limits – with cuts of some 22 percent from 2011 — for a second year.
She was backed at today’s press conference by a number of lawmakers and industry leaders, including Congressman Stephen Lynch, Gloucester-based state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante and state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, state energy and environmental affairs secretary Richard Sullivan, Gloucester fisherman Joe Orlando and Vito Giacalone of the Northeast Seafood Coalition and the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund.
Coakley, Lynch and Sullivan all noted during today’s press conference that the lawsuit is, in sme ways, an act of “desperation” after previous calls, emails, letters and other communications to The White House have been ignored, and – despite legal questions — NOAA has remained unresponsivde and unaccountable.
The complaint alleges, among other things, that the New England Fishery Management Council’s decision to set in place the new limits advanced by NOAA Northeast Administrator John Bullard, was not based on the best science available and that the criteria used to assess the groundfish stock is based on “antiquated and unfounded methods.”
Instead of using an appropriate methods to determine the actual stock available in New England’s waters, NEFMC relied on estimates and computer models built upon “deeply questioned methodology,” Coakley said in a prepared statement.
The lawsuit also contends that NOAA failed to take steps to mitigate the economic damage done by its regulations.
Specifically, the suit alleges that the federal government violated three national standards set forth by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which regulates the fishing industry. Those violations include:
A failure to allow fishermen to catch an “optimum yield”;
A failure to use the best scientific information available; and
A failure to consider the economic impacts of a major reduction in allotment.
The filing of the lawsuit is a continuation of the Attorney General’s efforts on behalf of Massachusetts fishermen. After a scathing 2010 report by the Department of Commerce’s own Inspector General documented excessive and harmful enforcement actions, Coakley urged Congress to pass legislation that would reimburse local fisherman for legal fees incurred while appealing those penalties, but Congress has failed to pass any such legislation.
In 2006, the AG’s Office successfully brought a lawsuit against the Secretary of Commerce arguing that the fisheries management plan in place at the time, Framework 42, also did not properly consider the interests of fishermen and fishing communities. As a result of that effort, the Attorney General’s Office was able to successfully force modifications to the guidelines.
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