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January 31, 2014

Bill expands appeals rules for transfer of fishing permits

Proposed legislation to protect due-process rights of the holders of fisheries licenses and permits has passed the Massachusetts House and is on the way to the Senate for deliberation there.

The legislation, sponsored by state Reps. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester and William Straus of Mattapoisett, both Democrats, expands the appeals process for anyone unsatisfied with the ruling of the state Division of Marine Fisheries on the transfer of a commercial fishing license, permit or certificate of registration.

Specifically, the proposed legislation mandates the availability of a judicial review for any decision by DMF on proposed transfers of licenses, permits and certificates of registration. DMF, unlike most state permitting agencies, currently is under no obligation to submit its decisions to judicial review.

Stephen Ouellette, a prominent Gloucester maritime attorney, said the legislation represents a positive beginning to the process of reforming the DMF decision-making process, which he described as an “unfettered grant of public authority” that has allowed DMF Director Paul Diodati to make rulings without ever explaining the basis for them.

Ouellette said Diodati has headed an “exceptionally arbitrary process” in which his office can base decisions on a vague clause in the current statute that allows him to decide a matter based on “the best interests of the commonwealth.”

“We’ve had instances where the agency has sat on an application to transfer a permit for three to five months, and then we’ve received a letter that told us only that the director has denied the transfer because it wasn’t in the best interests of the commonwealth. The director has expressed a belief that he has unfettered authority to deny the transfer of permits, and he has shown exactly that in practice,” Ouellette said. “This is a good step, but only the first step along a much longer path.”

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