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December 22, 2011

Fish appeal claims feds misled

An alliance of fishing interests led by the port cities of Gloucester and New Bedford filed briefs Wednesday arguing that the First U.S. District Court of Appeals should overturn a lower court ruling in June that upheld a radical reorganization of New England's fishing industry.

According to the appeal, the government intentionally circumvented requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and camouflaged the changes in order to transform the groundfishery in a commodities market, trading in catch shares, the appellants argued.

Since the start of the new regimen in May 2010, Amendment 16 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act has concentrated control of the industry in a small number of hands while "disenfranchising" a larger number of smaller businesses, according to multiple studies.

Based on the socio-economic studies, Gov. Deval Patrick, along with U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank — all Democrats — as well as Republican Sen. Scott Brown have petitioned Commerce Secretary John Bryson to acknowledge that the policies have produced an economic disaster, job loss, enriching the industry's rich at the expense or the rest.

The appellants — a cross-section of fishing businesses and shoreside support services stretching from Maine to North Carolina — asked the Court of Appeals to compel Bryson to vacate Amendment 16, conduct required research into the impact of the changes and submit the program to an industry referendum. That is a prerequisite for so-called "limited access privilege" programs written into the 2006 reauthorization of Magnuson, the landmark commitment to sustainable fisheries.

The government successfully argued before U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel last spring that no referendum was required for the change because the system that had been created technically was not a limited access program.

"Thanks to word games and circular arguments," the plaintiffs wrote, the Amendment 16 management plans have all the attributes of limited-access programs, but none of their protections.

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