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February 7, 2011

Judge denies fishermen's 'discovery' bid

A federal judge has turned down a request from New England groundfishing interests who sought the right of discovery to show whether environmental activists unduly influenced government decisions that brought the imposition of the disputed catch share fishery management system.

U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel disposed of the discovery motion without explanation Friday while making a number of rulings that will shape the administrative hearing in her Boston courtroom weeks from now. The overall lawsuit looms as a pivotal event in the disintegrating relationship between the industry and the federal government.

Zobel has not yet set a date for the administrative law hearing.

The push for the rare opportunity to depose top officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its sub agencies — the National Marine Fisheries Service and its New England Fishery Management Council — about the influence of imbedded agents and officers of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Pew Environment Group and other environmental organizations was led by New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang.

"Discovery in a case like this is unusual, and I respect (the judge's) ruling," Lang, who is an attorney, said Monday in a telephone interview. "But I see a flawed record.

"NOAA officials will be subjected to questioning by the (U.S. Commerce Department inspector general) or Congress on how these records were produced," Lang predicted.

Meanwhile, the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association has filed a motion to join the lawsuit — filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and a wide array of fishing interests — as a co-defendant with the federal government and the Conservation Law Foundation.

The hook fishermen's association has become a pivotal entity in the case because of its hybrid status as a group of fishing interests closely allied with the environmental giants, which have been providing millions in grant funding to support the Cape Cod group,

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