GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 29, 2012

Court throws out city's suit against fish law

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — The fishing ports of Gloucester and New Bedford, New England’s largest, have lost a bid to have federal regulations they claimed were wiping out the local fleets thrown out.

The U.S. First Court of Appeals has found the assembly of the catch share system for groundfishermen working in voluntary cooperatives to be legal and proper, and has rejected “all” the challenges to the system in a major court case brought by a large group of industry plaintiffs led by Gloucester and New Bedford.

The court’s 68-page ruling effectively brings to an end the legal assault on Amendment 16, which instituted a radical change to the Northeast fishing industry. The amendment is based on an allocation of the allowable catch to a limited number of participants who, if members of a cooperative or sector, can trade from their portfolio with other sectors to increase the value and efficiency of their effort.

One attorney on the team that brought the suit, speaking anonymously, said the plaintiffs had exhausted their resources, so an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was unlikely.

The system was voted by the 18-member New England Fishery Management Council in 2009, and went into effect in 2010. The system was not popular for many reasons, but central was the tendency of catch share trading to fuel consolidation, leaving participants with lesser allocations vulnerable.

Extreme cutbacks in the allocation of the groundfishing fleet beginning in 2010 brought the industry economic disaster, a condition affirmed legally and in writing by the acting secretary of commerce in September. The declaration did not come with any aid.

Led by U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the congressional delegation of the five coastal New England states and New York has set itself the task of affixing a $100 million disaster assistance rider to fiscal legislation in the lame duck session of the 112th Congress.

The lawsuit was joined by more than two dozen fishermen and industry groups from Maine to North Carolina, and supported in principle by many others, but much of the industry including the Northeast Seafood Coalition, based in Gloucester, did not join the plaintiffs’ group and agreed with the government on key points in contention before the Court Appeals.

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Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464 or rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.