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September 16, 2013

AG suit vs. NOAA gets new backing

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts now has company in its suit against NOAA.

The state attorney general’s lawsuit, which claims NOAA — in violation of the Magnuson Stevens Act — disregarded the devastating economic impact on fishing communities such as Gloucester generated by its staggering cuts in catch limits, now includes the state of New Hampshire as a co-plaintiff.

New Hampshire last week filed a motion seeking “permissive intervention” in U.S. District Court in Boston primarily to protect the interests of the state’s “unique small-boat fisheries industry that is not adequately represented by any other party or intervener.”

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns granted the motion, giving the Granite State a seat at the table as the suit moves toward the summary judgment stage. The suit was filed in May by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley — who according to weekend media reports, is expected to declare her 2014 candidacy for governor today.

“Our concern,” said Peter C.L. Roth, New Hampshire’s senior assistant attorney general, “is that the new fisheries regulation would be harmful to New Hampshire fishermen in similar ways that they are harmful to the Massachusetts fishermen.”

New Hampshire’s impetus for joining the suit also is steeped in the differences between the two states’ respective commercial fishing industries.

“There could be issues that we do not have precisely in common with the commonwealth (of Massachusetts) and we want to be able to protect those interests,” Roth said. “The commonwealth has a fishery that is perhaps somewhat more diverse than New Hampshire. We have a primarily, if not completely, small-boat fishery.”

Coakley filed the suit with great fanfare less than a month after NOAA implemented staggering cuts — up to 78 percent in the case of Cape of Maine cod — to the allowable catch of several groundfishing stocks that represent the heart of the Gloucester commercial fishing fleet’s landings.

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