Florida fishermen have entered a legal battle opposing an emergency ruling that would impose a 40 percent cut in allowable golden tilefish harvests in 2018.

The suit, filed Nov. 29 by the Southeastern Fisheries Association’s East Coast Fisheries Section, alleges that the NMFS “committed procedural and substantive violations of federal fisheries and administrative law.”

A NMFS golden tilefish assessment in 2016 found overfishing and, facing a looming deadline, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council requested an emergency ruling to address the problem.

The suit alleges the 2016 assessment “used flawed scientific methods that never should have been introduced.”

“This was supposed to be a simple update — adding new data to the stock assessment model that was thoroughly vetted and peer-reviewed,” said Russell Hudson, a fisheries consultant with the association. “Instead, NMFS made major model changes behind closed doors without required scientific, industry expert, and public oversight required when such changes occur.”

Fishermen claim “the use of emergency procedures to adopt the rule was also flawed,” arguing NMFS’ decision to waive the public comment period was incorrect and that there was plenty of time to get feedback between the June request and start of the season.

They have also raised questions about the validity of the methodology used in the 2016 assessment as well. In light of that, a new assessment was conducted in October, but did not yield any “scientifically useful results,” according to the suit.

After the government is served with the suit, it has 45 days to answer or seek dismissal.

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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