Rules violate national standards due to "unreasonably low" catch limits, inadequate consideration of socioeconomic impacts
BOSTON – January 13, 2011 – Attorney General Martha Coakley today filed on behalf of Governor Deval Patrick a "friend of the Court" brief charging that federal fisheries regulations on the Massachusetts ground fishing fleet violate established national standards by setting annual catch limits (ACLs) unreasonably low and failing to consider the economic and social impacts on commercial fishermen and fishing communities.
"These unreasonably low limits set by the federal government are threatening the economic livelihood of our fishing families," said Attorney General Coakley. "The regulations are unjust and unwarranted, and we are seeking to have them recalculated in a scientific manner and with greater consideration for the economic impact on our fishing communities."
"We will not stand idly by while our fishing families in the Commonwealth pay the price for a regulatory change that was poorly thought through and poorly implemented," said Governor Patrick. "The court needs to understand that neither science nor fairness justifies the regulations now imposing great hardship on the many small fishing operations in Massachusetts that need relief now."
Filed in a lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford against U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, the state's amicus curiae brief calls for the regulations to be remanded to the Secretary "with instructions that he recalculate higher ACLs," consistent with a report developed by senior staff at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and by scientists at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's School for Marine Science and Technology, "so as to enable Massachusetts commercial fishermen to achieve optimum yield." The report documents that catch limits could be increased by up to 30 percent for most species, and significantly more for some, providing substantial economic benefits to the fishing industry while still remaining within conservation bounds.
That report was filed with Secretary Locke on November 5, along with a letter from Governor Patrick requesting economic relief to address $21 million in losses due to inadequate initial allocations of allowable catch and immediate increases in catch limits to capture some or all of $19 million in foregone economic opportunities. Last week, Secretary Locke denied that request, claiming that the Massachusetts report "does not present new scientific data that would justify increasing the catch limits" and "the data provided are insufficient to warrant either a fishery disaster or a commercial fishery failure." In response, Governor Patrick said he was "deeply disappointed" by Secretary Locke's denial, with which Locke failed to raise catch shares within the limits of conservation science and "squandered an opportunity to relieve the economic hardship currently suffered by many fishing families and restore a sense of trust and good will toward the federal agencies who regulate their livelihood."
The brief filed by the Attorney General's Office on behalf of Governor Patrick and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Director Paul Diodati notes that while the Commonwealth generally supports the creation of the "catch-share" or sector-based management system in the Northeast Multi-Species Fishery, known as Amendment 16, the Secretary of Commerce's actual implementation of this new fisheries management approach violates several national standards established under the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management Act.
Specifically, the brief argues that in instituting catch shares the Secretary set annual catch limits that were unreasonably and unnecessarily low by not following the "best scientific information available" and ensuring that the limits allowed for "optimum yield." The Secretary also failed to develop contingency plans that would allow for recalculating catch limits based on new information.
In addition, the brief argues that the Secretary did not adequately consider economic and social impacts upon Massachusetts fishermen and fishing communities, as he is required to do. Rather, the Secretary anticipated negative economic consequences from the transition to the catch shares system under low catch limits, but "did not adequately consider critical and likely economic impacts that now threaten the implementation of sectors, specifically the ability to trade (or sell) catch-share allocation, i.e., quota, between permit holders and/or sectors." According to the brief, "If the Secretary had set reasonable ACLs – or even if the Secretary developed better contingency plans for recalculating ACLs on an ongoing basis – the market would be better able to function, and ultimately, this new sector management system better able to realize its economic promises."
Assistant Attorneys General Christine Baily and Daniel J. Hammond prepared the brief.