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The bad news: Judge Rya Zobel ruled against the cities of New Bedford and Gloucester, Mass., on all counts in their case challenging NOAA’s implementation of Amendment 16 and the sector management system for groundfish. Zobel rejected the historic fishing ports’ arguments that the sector management system is really an IFQ system, thus requiring, as stated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a fishermen’s referendum approving IFQ system implementation.
Zobel, while stating it was “a close call,” ruled Amendment 16 isn’t skirting requirements for establishing an IFQ program in New England because it gives fishermen the option to work in the common pool for harvesters preferring to fish under the previous days-at-sea management system, thus negating the requirement for the fishermen’s referendum.
“I know the fishing families and the community would disagree with the finding that this was a ‘close call,'” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in a press statement following Thursday’s ruling. “It’s not a close call, it’s a bad call when we’re talking about the livelihoods that hang in the balance. The way regulations are interpreted and enforced have sent too many fishermen into bankruptcy and pushed even more to the brink.”
The good news: The region’s politicians are in their corner and are fighting on their behalf. Both Kerry and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced this week they are filing bills that would address problems connected to Commerce Department investigations of NOAA’s fisheries enforcement practices.
Kerry’s bill proposes that the government reimburse fishermen for legal costs incurred while fighting, what he calls “unfair fines and retaliatory actions.” Fishermen whose fines are remitted by the Commerce Department (based on recommendations of Special Master Charles Swartwood, who is reviewing cases) could be reimbursed for their legal expenses.
Brown’s bill seeks to replace NOAA’s Asset Forfeiture Fund. The Commerce Department Inspector General’s office uncovered mismanagement and abuses of the fund in its investigation of enforcement practices.
Brown proposes replacing the Asset Forfeiture Fund with a new Fisheries Investment Fund that will be kept at the Treasury Department. Its monies could be used to help fishermen meet ever-growing regulatory compliance costs, such as at-sea observers and shoreside monitoring. His bill would also authorize the Secretary of Commerce to, based on Swartwood’s recommendations, reimburse fishermen for legal costs.