TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - Small-scale fishermen say a new scallop fishing rule will cut them out of the game to hand out permits to favored individuals and big corporations. The federal class action claims the Commerce Department unfairly eliminated more than 500 "entry-level" fishermen and small vessels; industry spokesmen said it could cost the independent businessmen as much as $300,000 per boat.
Lead plaintiff Abel Miguel and seven others say that Amendment 11 to the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan, putatively enacted to preserve stocks, is not grounded in reality, as the scallop fishery was at "historical maximum" in 2005.
They say the regulation arbitrarily set a November 2004 "control date," invalidating permits held since then without due process.
No public hearings were held and the rule stems from a faulty database, the fishermen and -women say.
They say the Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service used an "admittedly" faulty database, and failed to consider a National Academy of Sciences report, as required by the Sustainable Fisheries Act.
They also say the rule violates the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act, as the rule does not affect fishermen south of Massachusetts.
The small businessmen say the real purpose of the rule is to redistribute scallop resources to large-scale fishing operations. As many as 526 fishermen could be hurt by the permit revocations.
The class seeks an injunction allowing them to continue fishing, reissuance of their permits, production of documents and a fair hearing. They are represented by Patrick Flanigan of Swarthmore, Pa.
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