Not Good Enough, Ocean Group Tells USA

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A new National Marine Fisheries Service rule that will deploy onboard observers to monitor fishing of Northeast groundfish on 17 to 25 percent of fishing trips isn’t good enough, an environmental group says in Federal Court.
     “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,” Oceana says in its complaint against the Secretary of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
     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 Fisheries Service issued a final rule this year setting the at-sea monitoring rate target at 17 percent, in addition to an expected 8 percent coverage rate in the Northeast Fishery Observer Program, resulting in an expected 25 percent coverage of all fishing trips in that sector, Oceana says.
     “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,'” the complaint states.
     Oceana wrote in its comment letter that Dr. Paul Rago, a senior scientist with the Northeast Fishery Science Center, which works with the New England Council, acknowledged that “‘[t]he issue of accuracy is one that we have not yet looked at’ in setting observer coverage levels,” according to the complaint.
     Oceana says the Service responded to its concerns with a statement saying that “analyses” from 2010 showed that 25 percent coverage would be sufficient to monitor catch limits in 2012.
     “The Final Rule does not explain why 25 percent coverage would be sufficient in the groundfish fishery although its own reports have stated that coverage of 91 percent would be necessary in the groundfish fishery and that 100 percent might be necessary in other similar fisheries,” Oceana says.
     It seeks declaratory judgment that the rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and should be remanded to the Fisheries Service “to require it to propose a percent observer coverage level that is shown by record evidence to be sufficient to provide accurate, precise, and timely reporting of bycatch such that annual catch limits can be enforced.”
     The Magnuson-Steven Act regulates commercial and recreational fishing by, among other methods, administering and monitoring catch limits.
     Oceana is represented by Gardner Gillespie with Hogan Lovells.

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