April 14, 2014
It’s been nearly nine years now since NOAA enforcement agents, carrying out an unauthorized entry and raid into the then-Gloucester Seafood Display Auction, openly bullied workers and boasted that they were “accountable to no one.”
That 2005 scene, documented through testimony and essentially backed in an Inspector General’s 2010 report that found widespread uses of excessive force and penalties against Northeast fishermen, became something of a rallying cry for the fishing industry and its supporters. And it has never been forgotten, even as the federal government handed out reparations to fishermen and other businesses harmed by NOAA’s thuggish enforcement actions.
But, in a ruling last week, a federal judge delivered a troubling message to the industry regarding those NOAA agents’ claim that their agency can, in essence, do whatever it wants. U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns basically confirmed it’s true.
For all the legalese contained in a 33-page ruling dismissing the state’s lawsuit targeting NOAA’s science and regulatory policies, the bottom line is that the agency has no obligation to seek out better practices.