GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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January 23, 2011

Enviro seeks to halt state from backing fish suit

One of the major environmental groups battling the fishing industry has filed a critique — short of a formal objection — to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' request to join the federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and industry plaintiffs, all of whom are challenging the catch share regulatory regimen now governing New England's groundfishery.

The Conservation Law Foundation, which previously entered the case, joining the federal government in opposition to the fishing interests — and has opposed a motion for discovery into alleged improper influences from Environmental Defense Fund and other non-government organizations — stopped short of asking U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel to bar the commonwealth from joining the suit as a co-plaintiff.

Instead, CLF lawyers Peter Shelley and Greg Cunningham pointed out that the commonwealth had asked to join a suit against the same regulatory document — Amendment 16 as it's called — the state's own representative on the New England Fishery Management Council had voted for in June 2009.

Attorney General Martha Coakley two weeks ago filed a lengthy amicus brief and request for permission to join the suit on behalf of Gov. Deval Patrick.

Similar amicus requests from Reps. Barney Frank and John Tierney and the consumers' group Food & Water Watch are also pending. The lawsuit itself includes both Gloucester and New Bedford as plaintiffs, along with a variety of fishing interests who claim that Amendment 16 and the catch-share system were wrongly put in place.

The final vote on the package — a landmark transition for the groundfishery into what amounts to a limited access commodities market, with outside investors and corporations acquiring fishing "shares" from smaller, independent boat owners — was the product of years of intense debate.

In the final 16-1 tally, David Pierce, the deputy director of marine fisheries for the commonwealth and its voting representative on the council, voted with the majority in approving the Amendment 16 package.

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