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January 13, 2011

Governor, state AG back fishing suit vs. feds

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Thursday formally joined the hub fishing ports of Gloucester and New Bedford and a coalition of industry interests from Maine to North Carolina, challenging the Obama administration's groundfish regulatory regimen in federal district court.

The filings by state Attorney General Martha Coakley for Gov. Deval Patrick accuse the federal government of violating four national standards written into the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and illegally hurting the economy of the industry and fishing communities.

The latest version of Magnuson simultaneously commanded an expeditious restoration of overfished stocks, while also directing the effort to involve the optimal sustainable yield to the fishing industry.

The filing by the attorney general for the governor also accused the federal government of violating Magnuson's required use of "best scientific information available," while minimizing "adverse economic impacts" on the fishing communities.

"We will not stand idly by while our fishing families in the Commonwealth pay the price for a regulatory change that was poorly thought through and poorly implemented," Patrick said Thursday in a prepared statement. "The court needs to understand that neither science nor fairness justifies the regulations now imposing great hardship on the many small fishing operations in Massachusetts that need relief now."

"The regulations are unjust and unsupported," Coakley added, "and we are seeking to have them recalculated in a scientific manner and with greater consideration for the economic impact on our fishing communities."

The widening protest against Obama administration fisheries policies began soon after the confirmation in March 2008 of environmental activist and academic scientist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

She came to office pushing a catch share management system championed by the Environmental Defense Fund that essentially gives fishermen "shares" of a total allowable catch for each stock, while encouraging those shares be bought, sold or traded within the industry or to outside investors as in a commodities market. Lubchenco had been vice chairwoman of the EDF's board when she was nominated by the president to head NOAA.

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