AG Coakley Sues NOAA to Block New Regulations that Threaten Fishing Industry
Lawsuit Alleges Government Officials Failed To Consider Devastating Economic Impact Of New Regulations And Used Flawed Science to Over-Restrict Massachusetts Fishing Industry
BOSTON – Saying that the federal government’s recent enforcement and regulation of the fish stock demonstrates a “callous disregard for the well-being of New England fishermen,” Attorney General Martha Coakley today filed suit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for ignoring the devastating economic impact of the new regulations and allegedly using flawed science to over-restrict the Massachusetts fishing industry. The suit aims to block these new rules from being further enforced or implemented, as well as other relief to mitigate the impact.
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“These new regulations will be a death sentence for the Massachusetts fishing industry as we know it, devastating the fishing communities in our Commonwealth,” AG Coakley said. “The federal government has shown a callous disregard for the well-being of Massachusetts fishing families. The fishing industry has been part of our Commonwealth’s proud past, and we will continue to fight to ensure that is part of our vibrant future.”
NOAA oversees the Northeast Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) that is in charge of regulating the fishing industry for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
According to the complaint, filed today in the United States District Court in Boston, after moving to a quota-based system known as “catch shares” in 2004, the NEFMC recently adopted a 77% reduction of groundfish allotments across the region starting on May 1. The complaint seeks to prevent the government from over-regulating the fishing industry by declaring this latest regulation invalid.
The complaint alleges that the NEFMC’s decision was not based on the best science available and that the criteria used to assess the groundfish stock is based on antiquated and unfounded methods. Instead of using an appropriate method to determine the actual stock available in New England’s waters, NEFMC relied on Estimates using deeply questioned methodology.
The complaint also alleges that when developing the criteria to impose a 77% reduction, the NEFMC did not meaningfully consider the economic impact it would have on the fishing industry, as required by federal law. The lawsuit also contends that NOAA failed to take steps to mitigate the economic damage done by its regulations.
It is further alleged that the reduction will also destabilize shore side businesses. With diminished fishing opportunities, lack of infrastructure and disinvestment in equipment due to revenue losses, the industry could potentially be rendered unsustainable.
The lawsuit alleges that the federal government violated three national standards set forth by the Magnuson-Stevens Act which regulates the fishing industry. Those violations include:
- A failure to allow fishermen to catch an “optimum yield”;
- A failure to use the best scientific information available; and
- A failure to consider the economic impacts of a major reduction in allotment.
The filing of this lawsuit is a continuation of the Attorney General's efforts to advocate for Massachusetts fishermen. After a scathing report by the Inspector General that documented excessive and harmful enforcement actions, AG Coakley urged Congress to pass legislation that would reimburse local fisherman for legal fees incurred while appealing those penalties. Congress has failed to pass this legislation.
In 2006, the AG’s 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. As a result of that effort, the Attorney General's Office was able to successfully force the modification of Framework 42.
STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT
Governor Deval Patrick
“I thank the Attorney General for taking action to protect our fishing industry and the lives that depend on it, and I regret that it has come to this. Federal law is supposed to strike a balance, based on sound science, between commercial and environmental interests and my Administration has worked for years with all stakeholders to that end. Through any means available, including this lawsuit, we will continue to do just that.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Mo Cowan, Congressman Ed Markey, Congressman Steve Lynch, and Congressman Joe Kennedy, III
“We appreciate Attorney General Martha Coakley’s efforts to aid Massachusetts fishermen and echo her calls for assistance for fishermen and their families. As members of the Massachusetts delegation, we are deeply concerned about the economic disaster currently facing our fishermen, and we are disappointed that the Department of Commerce did not reach an agreement that balances protecting the fishing resource with preserving fishing families' way of life. We will continue to pursue disaster relief and other federal assistance to help fishing communities. We are committed to working with Attorney General Coakley, our fishermen, fishing related businesses, and other Massachusetts officials to deliver short-term relief and long-term solutions that will support Massachusetts’ fishing industry.”
Congressman John Tierney
“The unprecedented cuts initiated under Framework 48 are already having detrimental effects on our fishing community and are pushing many to the brink of losing their boats and businesses. As I and many of my colleagues have argued, the Magnuson-Stevens Act provides NOAA the flexibility to implement less drastic measures that would reduce overfishing without destroying the small-boat fishing industry. Unfortunately, NOAA has instead pushed through this regulation and put our historic fishing industry at risk. I continue to question the accuracy of the science that led to implementation of Framework 48, and, like many of my colleagues, believe we should pursue all options to ensure fair and reasonable treatment of our fishing community.”
Congressman Mike Capuano
“Small boat fishing is a time honored and important industry in the Massachusetts regional economy. I understand and appreciate the need to protect long term stock from overfishing. However, a balance must be struck between our economic and ecological interests to ensure fair treatment for Massachusetts fishermen.”
Congressman Bill Keating
“The first month of the 2013 fishing season is nearly behind us, yet the full consequences of diminished allowable catch on Massachusetts' fishing communities may never be fully understood. The Northeast groundfish industry is facing these challenges due, in part, to misinterpretations of the very policies designed to protect their livelihood. Fishery regulation is not possible, nor practical without accountability measures. However, it appears that our fishermen are being held accountable for NOAA’s failed policies and scientific inaccuracies. This is counterintuitive. The way forward requires an innovative balance that includes an equal emphasis on improved data collection and analysis.”
State Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr
“This lawsuit confronts directly the absurd and unjust groundfish regulations that are inflicting devastating economic hardships on fishing families and ports throughout New England. Since federal regulators have been unresponsive in the face of the harm being inflicted on them, the Attorney General’s action is needed to bring this issue into the courts where the facts and the law can be used to bring back fairness, common sense and compliance with the intent of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”
State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante
“On behalf of my district, I want to thank the Attorney General for standing up and defending my fishing community from unfair and unreasonable regulations. It is shameful that NOAA has chosen not to take the recommendation of the New England Fishery Management Council and implement the Interim Rule which would have resulted in rebuilding stocks while providing fishermen with a limited opportunity to fish and earn a living. Instead, NOAA has chosen to regulate fishermen out of business without a safety net, forcing fishermen to sell their homes and have the sons and daughters of fishing families return home from College to work to prevent the financial ruin of their families.”
Secretary Richard Sullivan, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
“A thriving fishing industry is vital to the Massachusetts economy and I support the Attorney General for taking this step to protect it. We will continue to fight for common sense solutions that protect both our environment and the sustainability of our Commonwealth’s fishing communities.”
New Bedford Mayor Jonathan Mitchell
“I am enormously grateful to Attorney General Coakley for filing a challenge to Framework 48 in U.S. District Court. Framework 48's groundfish cuts will devastate fishing communities in the Commonwealth, and they were implemented in contravention of the National Standards in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The federal government did not properly take into account economic and social data before implementing the cuts, as National Standard 8 mandates, and the cuts were not based on the best available science. I am hopeful that Attorney General Coakley's lawsuit will provide relief to fishing communities and help ensure that our fisheries are managed in accordance with the law.”
Jackie Odell, Executive Director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition
“Scientists projected that key stocks our fishery depends on would be rebuilt by 2014. Despite doing their part to rebuild fish stocks, small fishing-dependent businesses have had the rug pulled out from under them. The Northeast Seafood Coalition thanks Attorney General Coakley for recognizing and acknowledging that a balance between rebuilding fish stocks and sustaining a fishing industry is not currently being achieved.”
Scott Memhard, President of Cape Pond Ice Company (founded 1848)
“For more than 30 years my family (my father, myself, now my son) has owned and operated the Cape Pond Ice Company, since 1998 the only plant in Gloucester supplying the fishing fleet with ice. Our sales to fishing vessels dropped from 40,000 tons of ice a year to only 4,000 tons last year, and are already on track to be cut in half again this year, based on new Federal Catch Share quota limits. The erosion of the industry has now forced me to put our harbor-front real estate up for sale. We are doing everything we can to supply the fishing fleet with the ice they need, but if something doesn’t change soon, there will be no more fishing fleet to serve, and our business will be gone for good.”
Joe Orlando, Owner and Operator of F/V Padre Pio (65’ foot trawl vessel based out of Gloucester)
“My livelihood has been slashed before my eyes because the scientific reports changed so drastically. We won’t be allowed to bring in enough catch this year to even pay my business’ debts. I am in financial ruin. This fishery is in a disaster and we need help.”
Vito Giacalone, third generation commercial fisherman, Executive Director of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund
“This isn’t a battle about conservation versus fishing industry; this is an effort to strike a balance to rebuild fish and preserve fishery-dependent businesses. We’re not currently doing a good job of striking that balance. One example of this, is the denial of requested Interim Measures that would have rebuilt Gulf of Maine cod by 14 percent without decimating the fleet.”