Massachusetts Attorney General Sues NOAA Over “Callous Disregard” for Fishing Industry

These new regulations will be a death sentence for the Massachusetts fishing industry as we know it, devastating the fishing communities in our Commonwealth. 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.

-Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed suit yesterday 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.” At a press conference held yesterday on the Boston Fish Pier, Coakley said, “NOAA’s new regulations are essentially a death penalty on the fishing industry in Massachusetts as we know it.”

In the suit, she calls the regulations “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise not in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and they are in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, and short of statutory right.” In addition to NOAA, the lawsuit names Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, Acting Under Secretary and Administrator for NOAA Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Assistant Administrator for Fisheries of the National Marine Fisheries Service Samuel Rauch III, and  the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), which advises NOAA and voted on the quota reductions at the heart of the issue earlier this year.

The suit comes on the heals of deep cuts to quotas in the New England groundfish fishery–nearly 80 percent for some species–that kicked in on 1 May. During yesterday’s press conference, Coakley called the cuts “draconian” and claims they are “built on an imperfect science” by NOAA, an agency which she says has a “history of relentless and over-zealous regulation.” Coakley’s action received the support of the entire elected political leadership of Massachusetts.

NOAA Northeast Region Administrator John Bullard responded in a statement yesterday saying:

We know that the quota cuts this year for groundfish fishermen for several key stocks, including cod, are severe. However, given the poor condition of these stocks and the phased approach we took to reducing fishing effort to help ease the economic impacts on fishermen in 2012, the cuts are necessary. We need to focus our energies on identifying constructive solutions for helping fishermen such as refocusing effort on healthy, abundant groundfish and other species. It is time for us to look forward, not backward, if we are going to be able to help fishermen through this difficult transition.

State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said NOAA’s actions have caused “a regulatory disaster…based on unsound science and which, as this complaint–this petition argues very, very compellingly–violates the provisions of the Magnuson Act itself.”  The suit alleges three major violations of the intent of the Magnuson-Stevens Act by NOAA:

  • Not using the best available science
  • Not taking into account the economic impact of the quota reductions
  • Not allowing fishers to harvest an optimum yield

Critics of Coakley’s actions contend the suit entirely ignores the best available science, which clearly shows many groundfish stocks are in serious trouble in New England and, despite past management efforts are not recovering as expected. As Sean Cosgrove wrote in the blog today,

Attorney General Coakley’s lawsuit is a misguided denial of the facts that will only worsen the dire state of our fisheries and continue decades of self-inflicted wounds by politicians and fishing industry leaders that have destroyed this fishery for Massachusetts. is a website of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization based in New England.

About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
This entry was posted in Groundfishing, Litigation, Maine Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries, Overfishing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Massachusetts Attorney General Sues NOAA Over “Callous Disregard” for Fishing Industry

  1. Pingback: Federal Fisheries Regulators between a Rock and a Hard Place | The Good Catch

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