GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 19, 2013

Fish suit picks up new steam

By Sean Horgan
Staff Writer

---- — With Massachusetts and New Hampshire onboard, at least one other coastal New England state is tracking the federal lawsuit that accuses NOAA of wanton disregard for the catastrophic economic impact its catch quota policies have inflicted on the region’s fishing communities.

A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin said that office has been monitoring the lawsuit’s progress and has not ruled out the possibility of joining the action as a means of protecting the state’s commercial fishing industry and the communities in which it operates.

”Rhode Island has not signed on to the lawsuit, but we continue to closely monitor the status of that case,” said spokeswoman Amy Kemp.

The office of Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills did not respond to several requests for comment, and a spokesman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said the state has not been approached by Massachusetts about joining the lawsuit.

That could change soon.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, now also a candidate for governor, said at a Gloucester campaign stop Wednesday that she is pleased New Hampshire signed on as a co-plaintiff and plans to speak with the three remaining coastal New England states about joining the action.

“The more the better,” Coakley said while greeting supporters at the Cape Ann Brewing Co. on Rogers Street.

Coakley filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boston in late May, less than a month after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s implementation of staggering cuts — up to 78 percent in the case of Cape of Maine cod — to the allowable catch limits for several groundfishing stocks that traditionally have been at the heart of the Gloucester commercial fishing fleet’s landings.

New Hampshire, seeking to protect its predominantly small-boat commercial fishing fleet, became a co-plaintiff last week when U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns accepted the Granite State’s petition for intervention.

The lawsuit, which is moving toward the summary judgment phase, seeks to block any further implementation by NOOA of its drastically reduced catch quotas.

The lawsuit also argues that NOAA used “flawed science to over-restrict the Massachusetts fishing industry” and did nothing to mitigate the economic damage caused by the gutting of allowable catch quotas.

It also alleges NOAA violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act that regulates U.S. fisheries by failing to allow fishermen to catch an optimum yield, as well as failing to use the best scientific information or consider the local economic impacts generated by the cuts in quotas.

Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT