Amid a series of probing questions during Wednesday’s First U.S. Appeals Court Hearing on New England’s fisheries, Chief Justice Sandra L. Lynch posed the most intriguing.
If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its New England Fishery Management Council , she wondered, was already addressing the perceived “problems” brought on by rampant consolidation in the fishing industry — as NOAA attorney Joan Pepin shamelessly argued — why was Wednesday’s panel facing so may plaintiffs still actively challenging the system?
The answer is simple. It’s because the claims argued in the federal Appeals Court by Pepin that, essentially, NOAA is actively working to supposedly correct the issues brought about when NOAA and the council basically forced Gloucester’s and New England’s fishermen into a new catch share management system were misleading at best — and blatantly false at worst. And the same goes for Conservation Law Foundation attorney Peter Shelley’s absurd claim that Amendent 16 and its catch share system now driving more and more independent fishermen and boats out of the industry is actually popular with fishermen.
The truth is, neither of those arguments — perpetuated since even before NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco made her job-killing catch share program the Obama administration’s national fisheries policy —has ever held water. And the fact that officials, corporately-backed catch share activists and attorneys like Pepin and Shelley mouth them over and over again doesn’t make them true.
And we can only hope that the three judges hearing and deciding this case will indeed put resources into their own investigation of the issues – not be blindly led by claims that, as today’s Page 1 news story notes, just do not match the documented path the government has taken toward policies that are wrongly forcing independent fishermen to cast aside their way of life while larger fishing operations and corporations acquire more “shares” and fishing quota and gain more and more control of the industry.
In Pepin’s case, the supposed “fixes” she’s talking about haven’t even made it to the fishery council’s drawing board, let alone tackled the many, many issues at hand.
And Shelley’s claim that a majority of fishermen are working successfully with catch shares is patently false. In arguing Wednesday, he cited the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen’s Association as a group that has succeeded with catch shares — apparently ignoring the number of their boats that have bowed out of the business. And he forgot to tell the judges a few other facts as well: that the Cape “Hookers,” as they call themselves, had received additional quota when the fishery council – not so coincidentally headed at the time by John Pappalardo, the Hookers’ policy chief and CEO.
Indeed, that’s no doubt one reason why the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s office is carrying out a probe into whether advocacy groups had undue influence in the setting of fishery policy. And it’s perhaps why Shelley’s own CLF vehemently argued — with success, unfortunately — that emails and other documents exchanged between the law foundation and NOAA or other government officials should not be released to shed light on what role it and corporately-fueled nonprofits like the Environmental Defense Fund played in setting federal fisheries policy.
It will no doubt take some time before this case is decided. So, yes, NOAA and the beleaguered Obama Commerce Department have succeeded in getting this clear case of excessive regulation, wrongful enforcement and outright assault on America’s hard-working fishing families pushed back until after the November elections.
But we can only hope that the judges weighing their ruling are not swayed by the seemingly false and misleading rhetoric they heard in some aspects of Wednesday’s appeal. And if catch shares are so popular among fishermen, neither NOAA nor the CLF should have any problem granting fishermen the industry referendum they are promised under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
When it comes to any legal decision, upholding the current law would be a good place to start.