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Sea Captain Sides With Fish Against Feds

WASHINGTON (CN) - A new National Marine Fisheries Service rule will allow commercial fishermen to dump bycatch without bringing it onboard to be monitored, and a longtime sea captain says the final rule, which differs from the proposed rule, will hurt the New England fishing industry.

Peter Taylor, a long-line commercial fisherman with more than 30 years of experience, says the NMFS' new rule invites abuse or a rule meant to ban the discarding of unmonitored bycatch.

Taylor says the proposed rule would have forced midwater trawl boats to have an observation crew take note of the vessel's groundfish bycatch, the only exception being in instances where a bycatch of sharks prevented the crew from bringing the catch on board.

But Taylor says the NMFS issued a final rule that added a new exception without consulting commercial fisherman interested in renewing and sustaining groundfish populations in New England.

The new exception allows midwater trawl vessels to "release small amounts of fish that cannot be pumped and remain in the net at the completion of pumping operations."

Taylor says the rule does not define "cannot be pumped," which allows boats to use the rule to avoid sampling the bycatch.

"By reversing course and allowing a surprise exception to the ban on discarding fish before all catch is brought on board the vessel for sampling by the observer, NMFS is allowing for significant amounts and types of unmonitored bycatch to be released in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act," Taylor says in his complaint.

The New England area has been plagued by overfishing for decades, prompting several congressional attempts to protect its fish populations.

Taylor says the final rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, and ignored the best available science, as required. He wants the new rule vacated.

He is represented by Stephen Roady with EarthJustice.

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