Massachusetts AG Coakley Sues NOAA over Fishing Limits

Published August 14, 2013

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed suit in federal district court claiming the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration violated federal law with newly imposed fish-catch restrictions.

Dramatic Reductions in Fish Quotas
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this spring announced severe cutbacks in the number of cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder New England fisherman can catch this year. NOAA officials said the new restrictions, which reduce the allowable catch by as much as 78 percent, are necessary to replenish fish populations.

“We know that the quota cuts this year for groundfish fishermen for several key stocks, including cod, are severe,” NOAA Northeast region administrator John Bullard said in a press statement. “However, given the poor condition of these stocks and the phased approach we took to reducing fishing efforts to help ease the economic impacts on fishermen in 2012, the cuts are necessary.”

‘Death Sentence’ to Area Fishermen
Coakley says NOAA could have safeguarded fish populations with less severe restrictions. Coakley suggested a 40 percent reduction would have protected fish populations while avoiding what she termed a “death sentence” on Massachusetts fishermen.

“NOAA’s new regulations are essentially a death penalty on the fishing industry in Massachusetts as we know it,” said Coakley at a press conference at the Fish Pier in South Boston.

“NOAA’s failure to do its job right is costing the jobs of our fishing families across Massachusetts,” Coakley added.

Possible Violation of Federal Law
At the core of her legal complaint, Coakley claims NOAA’s new restrictions violate the Magnuson-Stevens Act by failing to allow fishermen to catch the optimum yield consistent with sustaining fish populations. She also claims NOAA failed to use the best available science in determining its fishing quotas and did not consider the economic impacts on regional fishermen.

Several Massachusetts public officials joined Coakley at the Fish Pier press conference. Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, Democratic State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, and Republican State Sen. Bruce Tarr appeared alongside the Massachusetts Attorney General.

Fishermen Allege Retaliation
Ferrante said NOAA is imposing draconian fishing restrictions on Massachusetts fishermen in retaliation for local fishermen complaining about recent overaggressive enforcement of fishing regulations. After the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Commerce investigated the complaints, top NOAA officials in 2010 traveled to Gloucester to personally apologize for NOAA’s excessive actions and repaid some fines collected from area fishermen. Nevertheless, NOAA officials and Massachusetts fishermen continue to spar over what area fishermen say are overly aggressive and retaliatory NOAA actions.

Individual fishermen and small, family fishing enterprises are responsible for most of the catch impacted by NOAA’s new restrictions.

Earlier this year, area fishermen launched an online petition to close NOAA’s Gloucester office.

“The dirty little secret is that this isn’t about fish. This is about a vindictive agency,” Ferrante said at the Fish Pier press conference.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.