New England Overfishing Litigation Kept in D.C.

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A lawsuit concerning the U.S. government’s oversight of the Northeast fishing industry need not play out in Massachusetts, a federal judge ruled.
     A 2012 National Marine Fisheries Service rule deploys onboard observers to monitor fishing of Northeast groundfish on 17 percent to 25 percent of fishing trips, but Oceana claimed in a federal complaint that those numbers are not good enough.
     “Although the Fisheries Service intends to deploy onboard observers on 17 to 25 percent of all fishing trips in the groundfish fishery, the Fisheries Service failed to demonstrate why, in light of its own reports calling for high or even 100 percent coverage in other similar fisheries, monitoring of only 17 to 25 percent of fishing activity will be sufficient to accurately monitor the catch and adequately enforce catch limits in this fishery,” the environmental group claimed.
     It named the secretary of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service as defendants.
     Groundfish live on or near the bottom of the waters they inhabit.
     The Northeast Multispecies Fishery covers 20 stocks of groundfish off the New England and the Mid-Atlantic coasts, including Atlantic halibut, cod, Pollock, haddock, white hake, redfish, ocean pout, Atlantic wolfish, yellowtail, windowpane and witch flounder.
     All have been depleted by overfishing.
     The government moved to have the matter transferred to a district closer to the fishery, but U.S. District Judge James Boasberg denied the motion Monday, emphasizing “that convenience and the interests of justice justify keeping the matter in the District of Columbia.”
     “The court does not deny that the people of Massachusetts have a clear interest in the outcome of this case,” Boasberg wrote. “That interest, however, does not outweigh the strong presumption in favor of plaintiff’s choice of its home forum.”
     The Fisheries Service’s rule sets the at-sea monitoring rate target at 17 percent, in addition to an expected 8 percent coverage rate in the Northeast Fishery Observer Program, which adds up to an expected 25 percent coverage of all fishing trips in that sector, Oceana argued.
     “In response to these statements, as they appeared in the proposed rule, Oceana commented that the Fisheries Service ‘fail[ed] to explain how the “expected” 25 percent level of coverage would provide sufficient timely, accurate, and precise data to enforce [annual catch entitlements,'” its complaint stated.
     The group said the rule does not explain why 25 percent coverage is sufficient in the groundfish fishery while the fishery’s own reports have stated that coverage of 91 percent would be necessary and that 100 percent might be necessary in similar fisheries.

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