Fishermen sue federal government over at-sea monitor mandate, costs

Suit being brought by Northeast Fishery Sector 13
Fishermen here in Chatham and across Cape Cod are faced with the federal at-sea monitor mandate. John Fitts photo.

.In a new lawsuit, regional fishing interests are challenging the legality of a mandate requiring them to carry at-sea monitors on their vessels during fishing trips and to soon begin paying the cost of hosting those federal enforcement contractors.

The non-profit Cause of Action announced the suit Thursday, saying it was being brought by Northeast Fishery Sector 13, which represents fishermen from Massachusetts to North Carolina, and David Goethel, owner and operator of a 44-foot trawler based in Hampton, N.H.

In the suit filed in US District Court in New Hampshire against the U.S. Department of Commerce, the plaintiffs are also seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent fishermen from taking on the costs, estimated at hundreds of dollars per day at sea.

"The fishermen in my sector are hard-working and compassionate folks who would give the shirts off of their backs to help a fellow fisherman in need," Northeast Fishery Sector 13 Manager John Haran said in a statement. "Our sector will be effectively shut down if these fishermen are forced to pay, themselves, for the cost of at-sea monitors."

According to Cause of Action, fishermen are already coping with "catch shares" associated with the 2012 federal designation of the fisheries as an economic disaster, a 33.6 percent decline in groundfish revenue from fishing year 2010 to fishing year 2013, and oversight and policing from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents.

The lawsuit cites a Nov. 10, 2015 e-mail notice from NOAA to groundfish fishermen stating that beginning on Jan. 1, 2016 those fishermen will be required to pay for the cost of at-sea monitors on their fishing trips whenever a monitor is assigned to the trip.

"Most of those fishermen will be unable to pay, and will be forced to give up their livelihoods," the lawsuit states.

The Northeast groundfish fleet included 735 active vessels and employed 2,039 crew members in fishing year 2013, according to the lawsuit, part of a larger seafood sector that supports an estimated 300,000 jobs in fishing communities along the East Coast.


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