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November 26, 2012

Lawyer blasts NOAA 'failure' on fishing

The senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation — the only intervenor allowed by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Gloucester’s, New Bedford’s and other plaintiffs’ fishing industry lawsuit challenging the legality of NOAA’s and the New England Fishery Management Council’s radical restructuring of the Northeast groundfishery based on assigned fishermen’s catch shares — has posted an angry condemnation of the government’s fishery management.

Peter Shelley’s denunciation, which portrays the government’s management of the Northeast groundfishery as an abject failure, is notable because he is allied legally with NOAA in opposition to the fishing industry’s lawsuit. His posting last Wednesday, however, will not become part of the legal public record on which the court will base its decision, expected by the end of January.

Shelley’s argument faults the government for caving to industry pressure to allow too much fishing and, in the long run, has done a disservice to fishermen, especially the small day boat operators. Many associated with industry have faulted the government for the opposite – caving to conservation interests, setting limits too low, managing the fishery based on the weakest stock, and tolerating mistreatment of fishermen by NOAA law enforcers.

The acting secretary or commerce last September conceded the legal point that the fishery has declined into a disaster, acceding to filings for a disaster dating to November 2011 by Massachusetts and January 2012 by New Hampshire and Maine. Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York also filed for a disaster declaration. Yet no funds have been made available by the Commerce Department for relief, leaving it to Congress, which has made no apparent progress with a month to go before the 112th Congress expires.

“This Thanksgiving, I want to give an overdue thanks to the region’s remaining fishermen who brave the elements and bring my family fish and seafood products to eat,” Shelley wrote. “All of us have failed to provide you with a rational, predictable and equitable business environment in which to nourish your hopes of being part of the American dream.

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