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November 28, 2010

Suit cites NOAA sham in catch share scheme

Gloucester's and others' legal challenge to the Obama administration's management system for the New England groundfishery — a challenge to the government's interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — has come into sharper focus through a flurry of filings in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Together, the documents described the latest program pushed forward by NOAA in Amendment 16 as a misguided, camouflaged, agenda-driven and "illogical" sham aimed at disenfranchising small businesses while giving windfalls to larger company's and investing corporations.

Congressmen Barney Frank and John Tierney, both Massachusetts Democrats, last week jointly submitted an amicus brief to the original suit filed last summer by commercial fishing interests — and the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford — while nonprofit Food and Water Watch also filed a memorandum in support.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration having 30 days to respond to the briefs. The court has yet to rule on the applications of Food and Water Watch to join the suit on behalf of the industry, or the earlier request of Conservation Law Foundation to come in as an ally of the government.

Tierney "is deeply concerned that, under the catch share/sector allocation program, fishermen are faced with decreased income, unfair consolidation and job loss," wrote his attorney, a former chief counsel at NOAA.

Industry referendum

The two memorandums by the congressmen and Food and Water Watch agree that NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council — an arm of the agency — intentionally concocted false arguments designed to legally rationalize not giving the industry a congressionally-required referendum before converting the groundfishery into a catch share management system, in which fishermen working in cooperatives are assigned shares of a total allowable catch for each fish stocks. The shares can be bought sold or traded either among permit holders, or sold to outside interests, creating natural resource commodity markets with rapid trading and speculative investment.

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