For Immediate Release - August 17, 2011

AG Coakley Urges Congress to Pass Bills to Reimburse Local Fishermen for Legal Fees Incurred While Appealing Excessive Fines

Coakley Voices Support for Legislation Filed by Senator Kerry and Congressman Frank

BOSTON - Seeking to address the excessive and harmful enforcement actions taken against Massachusetts fishermen by the federal government, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley today urged Congress to pass federal legislation that would reimburse local fishermen for their legal fees incurred while appealing those penalties.

In letters sent to the Chairmen of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation pdf format of Letter of Support for S. 1304
and the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources pdf format of Letter of Support for H.R. 2610
, Attorney General Coakley expressed her support for two bills filed by Senator John Kerry and Congressman Barney Frank which amend the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act Fishery Conservation and Management Act ("MSA").

The bills were filed following an investigation by a federal Inspector General that found that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Office (NOAA) engaged in enforcement practices that were excessive and unreasonable. It also found that the appeals process was designed to create a disincentive for fishermen to appeal those fines, creating a lack of confidence on the part of fishermen that the appeal process was fair, transparent, and impartial.

The bills would establish a formal process to reimburse local fishermen for legal fees incurred while appealing those excessive fines.

"The livelihood of fishermen and the economies of our fishing communities have been greatly harmed by the excessive penalties levied by NOAA, and an appeals process that stacked the decks against them," AG Coakley said. "These two pieces of legislation are important steps toward restoring fairness and reimbursing our fishermen for the legal fees they incurred while challenging those unfair penalties. I commend Senator Kerry and Congressman Frank for their leadership on this important issue."

The letters sent by AG Coakley ask that Congress adopt the changes set forth in H.R. 2610, the Asset Forfeiture Fund Reform and Distribution Act of 2011, filed by Congressman Frank, and Senate 1304, the Fisheries Fee Fairness Act of 2011, filed by Senator Kerry.

Congressman Frank's bill would amend the MSA to reform procedures for the payment of funds from the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) established through the MSA. The AFF is the account into which fines assessed for violations of fisheries regulations related to the MSA are deposited. Congressman Frank's bill would reimburse fishermen who have successfully challenged excessive fines for their legal fees and shift surplus funds back to the states for use in research and monitoring of fish stocks; fisheries management; and socioeconomic assessments of fishing communities.

Senator Kerry's bill authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to reimburse legal fees to fishermen who have successfully challenged fisheries enforcement penalties assessed by NOAA.

The letters sent this week are a continuation of the Attorney General's efforts to advocate for Massachusetts fishermen. In 2006, the office successfully brought a lawsuit against the Secretary of Commerce arguing that the fisheries management plan in place at the time, Framework 42, did not properly consider the interests of fishermen and fishing communities. While the Attorney General's Office was able to successfully force the modification of Framework 42, AG Coakley has expressed new concerns with the recent transition to a "catch share" system, known as Amendment 16, and submitted briefs as amici in lawsuits challenging Amendment 16.