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May 30, 2013

AG Coakley files suit to block NOAA catch limits

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.

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