Pelagic trawlers win in northeast herring exclusion zone challenge
March 14, 2022
A Federal Court ruling could reopen some northeast waters to pelagic herring trawlers, after a rule change in 2019 excluded them from a wide swath of the Atlantic near the coast, from Long Island to the Canadian border .
US District Court Judge Leo Sorokin in Boston ruled Marcg 4 in favor of a lawsuit brought by the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition, a trade group representing companies that fish for herring and mackerel. In November 2019, the NMFS approved a New England Fishery Management Council measure to create a pelagic trawling exclusion zone 12 miles offshore – with a hump 20 miles east of Cape Cod.
It was the culmination of two decades of debate about the impact of pelagic trawling and complaints from other fishermen that it was causing “localized depletion” of forage fish, disrupting ecosystems and their seasonal access to groundfish, tuna and other species.
“The council recommended the pelagic trawl restricted area to mitigate potential negative socio-economic impacts on other user groups resulting from the short-duration, high-volume removals of herring by pelagic trawlers,” Michael Pentony wrote. , NMFS Northeast Regional Trustee in 2019 in a decision letter approving the New England Council Proposal.
But in his view, Judge Sorokin wrote that the concept of “localized exhaustion” was not properly defined by the agency. This led him to decide that the exclusion zone decision violated National Standard 4 of the Magnuson-Steven Fisheries Management and Conservation Act.
The NMFS “failed to identify a rational connection between the facts found and the choice to implement the exclusion zone. One of the main purposes of the rule is to “minimize local exhaustion and conflict associated user groups when pelagic trawlers fishing for herring overlap with other user groups,” the judge wrote. Yet the NMFS “could identify no scientific evidence of localized depletion, and yet least establish a link between MWT vessels and localized exhaustion”.
Citing the law, Sorokin wrote that National Standard 4 states that “conservation and management measures shall not discriminate between residents of different states. If it becomes necessary to distribute or assign fishing privileges among various fishers in the United States, such distribution shall be (A) fair and equitable to all such fishers; (B) reasonably calculated to promote conservation; and (C) performed in such a manner that no particular individual, corporation or other entity acquires an excessive share of such privileges.
“Assuming without deciding that Defendant (NMFS) could reasonably recognize the exclusion zone as an allowance for the first time in the Final Rule, the Court finds that Defendant failed to meet National Standard 4 and, specifically , his obligation to explain how the rule is “reasonably calculated to promote conservation,” the judge wrote.
Prior to the 2019 ruling, estimates from the New England council and industry sources predicted a 30% reduction in pelagic fishing revenue. In a March 11 statement, midwater boat operators said Sorokin’s decision could help them.
“For the past few years, we’ve relied on this area for most of our catch,” said Gary O’Neill, owner of the Endeavor and Challenger pelagic trawlers and processing plan for Cape Seafoods in Gloucester, Mass. existential threat to our livelihoods. This decision is a huge relief.
In its lawsuit, the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition argued that the science advisers to the New England council could not identify the adverse effects of pelagic trawling, but that the persistence and political influence of opponents had persuaded the council and the NMFS.
“The law is the only protection a small fishing industry has against a well-represented majority,” said Shaun Gehan, an attorney for pelagic fishers. “We are delighted that the judge recognized that this measure lacked a meaningful conservation benefit, let alone fairness and justice, as required by law.”
“The main problem with the process was that it was touted as dealing with so-called ‘localized depletion,’ which scientists were unable to identify,” said Wayne Reichle, president of Lund’s Fisheries, operators of the pelagic trawler Enterprise and a processor. factory in Cape May. NJ “This is a user conflict issue and should be treated as such.”