GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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March 19, 2014

State targets NOAA science, tactics

The National Marine Fisheries Service used sub-standard methods of data collection and violated the rule of federal law when it failed to consider alternatives to its preferred catch limits or how those alternatives would affect fishing communities, Massachusetts has charged in its most recent filing of its lawsuit against federal fishing regulators.

Those charges are at the heart of the lawsuit the state filed last May 30 against then-Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and her department’s fishing regulators — NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service — in the wake of unprecedented cuts in the 2013 available catch limits for cod and other species historically elemental to groundfishermen from Gloucester and elsewhere.

The suit, filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley, contends that those Draconian cuts — 77 percent in the allowable landings of Gulf of Maine cod — were based on questionable science and instituted without proper regard for the adverse economic they would create for fishermen and fishing communities.

The federal government has until March 28 to file its final reply brief and then the case will move to oral arguments before U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns renders his judgment.

The reply brief, filed March 7 in U.S. District Court in Boston in support of the state’s motion for summary judgment, also argues against NMFS’s contention that a ruling favoring the state would bring the Northeast groundfish industry to a halt by leaving no legal catch limits in place.

“NMFS is mistaken and its doomsday scenario is not the logical consequence of the Commonwealth’s claim,” the brief argued.

The state pointed out that its initial memorandum said the court should invite “further briefing on the question of an appropriate remedy” if Stearns rules in its favor. It also argued that Stearns is not limited to the either/or choice of vacating the current management rules or keeping them in place.

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