The federal lawsuit filed by a New Hampshire fisherman to block NOAA Fisheries' plan to shift the cost of at-sea monitoring to groundfish permit holders has devolved, at least for now, into a paper fight.

Lawyers for plaintiff David Goethel, captain of the Ellen Diane out of Hampton, N.H., have filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Joseph J. Laplante for an expedited hearing on the merits of the case. Federal lawyers have countered with a motion to dismiss the case outright.

Laplante, sitting in Concord, N.H., has yet to rule on either motion.

In late January, Laplante denied a motion by Goethel's lawyers for a preliminary injunction that would have immediately halted federal plans to shift the costs of at-sea monitoring to the groundfish boats, thereby helping stave off the impending economic carnage the shift is expected to visit on the already reeling fleet.

"Given that preliminary injunctive relief is not available, plaintiffs request that the court proceed to the merits at its earliest convenience," Goethel's lawyers wrote in their motion. "This case remains urgent, with a 'substantial, largely unrebutted' risk of 'potentially disastrous financial impact' impending in a matter of weeks."

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