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September 17, 2013

Editorial: Additional plaintiffs to fishery suit boost its urgency

The news that the state of New Hampshire has essentially climbed aboard the federal lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General — and now gubernatorial candidate — Martha Coakley on behalf of the fishing industry is welcome news.

The suit, after all, has seemingly not moved an inch since its June filing, except to draw the typical and frankly almost laughable criticism from the Conservation Law Foundation, since it was first announced in the spring.

Thanks to the dire new cuts in cod and other catch limits took effect May 1, fishermen in Gloucester and elsewhere around New England have been forced toward, into or virtually beyond bankruptcy by acts of their own government that, by Coakley’s count, violate aspects of federal law. And the word that it has not yet cleared even a summary judgment hearing is troubling, to say the least.

In that vein, the granting of a New Hampshire motion for “permissive intervention” by U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns last week not only gives that state a place in the discussion, but also gives more weight to Coakley’s argument that, indeed, NOAA’s catch limits show a frightening lack of consideration for their impact on fishing communities like Gloucester – a requirement of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act — but also that the agency continues to use outdated scientific methods in carrying out the assessments that trigger its policies and limits.

In filing to join Coakley’s legal challenge, Peter C.L. Roth, New Hampshire’s senior assistant attorney general, said he and his colleagues are concerned that “the new fisheries regulation would be harmful to New Hampshire fishermen in similar ways that they are harmful to the Massachusetts fishermen.”

He’s right, of course. Indeed, the catch limits — still pegged, at this point, to cover both the 2013 and 2014 fishing years, or through April 30, 2015 — are delivering virtual death blows to small, independent fishermen up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

It’s that fact that leads us to hope that other states will join this important regulatory challenge as well. Maybe that would put the future of America’s seafood industry on the court system’s front burner.

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