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East Coast Fishermen File Lawsuit Over At-Sea Monitoring Mandate

Complaint Challenges Federal Regulation that the Government Admits Would Hurt Fishermen Throughout the East Coast

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 10, 2015

MEDIA CONTACT: Geoff Holtzman l l 703-405-3511

WASHINGTON – Today, Cause of Action is announcing that its clients, David Goethel, owner and operator of F/V Ellen Diane, a 44-foot fishing trawler based in Hampton, N.H., and Northeast Fishery Sector 13, a nonprofit entity representing fishermen from Massachusetts to North Carolina, are suing the U.S. Department of Commerce over a program that would devastate the fishing industry along much of the eastern seaboard.

The complaint challenges the legality of a federal mandate requiring those who fish for cod, flounder and other ‘ground fish’ in the Northeast United States to not only carry National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) enforcement contractors known as “at-sea monitors” on their vessels during fishing trips, but to soon begin paying out-of-pocket for the cost of these authorities. In addition to the complaint, the Plaintiffs have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would protect fishermen from having to bear the costs of the at-sea monitors.

“Fishing is my passion and its how I’ve made a living, but right now, I’m extremely fearful that I won’t be able to do what I love and provide for my family if I’m forced to pay out of pocket for at-sea monitors,” said Goethel. “I’m doing this not only to protect myself, but to stand up for others out there like me whose livelihoods are in serious jeopardy. I’m grateful to Cause of Action for giving my industry a voice and helping us fight to preserve our way of life.”

“The fishermen in my sector are hard-working and compassionate folks who would give the shirts off of their backs to help a fellow fisherman in need,” said Northeast Fishery Sector 13 Manager John Haran. “Our sector will be effectively shut down if these fishermen are forced to pay, themselves, for the cost of at-sea monitors.”

“By the federal government’s own estimate, this unlawful regulation will be the death knell for much of what remains of a once-thriving ground fish industry that has been decimated by burdensome federal overreach,” said Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein. “Americans, particularly those who enjoy good, quality seafood, should be extremely concerned that an industry that has been around since before our nation was even founded is slowly going extinct, having been left out at sea by a federal government that seems more interested in caving to special interests than protecting jobs, families and consumers everywhere.”






“Catch Shares” are a fishery management tool that dedicates a secure share of quota allowing fishermen or other entities to harvest a fixed amount of fish. Since 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has coerced New England groundfishermen like Mr. Goethel into joining a form of catch shares known as “sectors,” where they share quota, and are forced to invite federally-contracted monitors onto their boats anytime they set out to sea.

Although the agency has claimed in Federal court that “Sector membership is voluntary; permit holders need not join a sector in order to be able to fish,” the reality is they have designed the alternative, known as the “common pool” to be so prohibitive, that fisherman are forced to join a sector to remain economically viable in the groundfish industry.

Catch Shares were promoted heavily by environmental groups and NOAA during the first years of the Obama Administration. Former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, asserted that “fisheries managed with catch share programs perform better than fisheries managed with traditional tools.” She promised that catch shares are “the best way for many fisheries to both meet [federal mandates] and have healthy, profitable fisheries that are sustainable.” However, the promises made by Federal appointees and environmentalists have not been fulfilled in New England.

Unfortunately, it’s about to get much worse for these struggling fishermen, who are already policed by the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some time in “early 2016,”, NOAA will begin forcing them to pay the costs associated with having at-sea monitors watch over their shoulders.

This unlawful mandate will cost Mr. Goethel and the groundfishermen of Sector 13 hundreds of dollars per day at sea, which, for many of them, is the difference between sinking and staying afloat. In fact, according to a study produced by NOAA, nearly 60% of the industry will be rendered unprofitable if it is required to pay out of pocket for these monitors.

NOAA has implemented the industry funding requirement for monitoring despite the fact that:

  • The Secretary of Commerce declared the groundfish fishery an economic disaster in 2012.
  • The industry continues to struggle with the precipitous decline in groundfish profitability, as evidenced by a four-year low in groundfish revenue of $55.2 million for Fishing Year 2013 — a 33.6 percent decline from Fishing Year 2010.
  • Congress has directed NOAA to use its appropriated funding to cover the cost of these at-sea monitors, which NOAA has refused to properly utilize and allocate in accordance with congressional intent.
  • NOAA is specifically required by statute to implement regulations that allow fishing communities sustainable prosperity and “minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities.”
  • As mentioned above, NOAA itself produced a study indicating that upwards of 60 percent of the groundfish industry could be rendered unprofitable if it is required to pay for at-sea monitors.

About David Goethel:

Mr. Goethel, who has been fishing for over 30 years, holds a B.S. in Biology from Boston University, and worked at the New England Aquarium as a research biologist before choosing to go back out to sea as a fisherman. Mr. Goethel served two terms on the New England Fishery Management Council, and has been an advisor to seven state and federal fishery management boards, including the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission and the governor’s commission on marine biology. Mr. Goethel has been awarded the National Fisherman’s Highliners Award for his active involvement in cooperative efforts to research and manage marine fisheries resources, and is a member of the Yankee Fishermen’s Cooperative.

About Northeast Fishery Sector 13:

Northeast Fishery Sector 13 is a nonprofit organization comprised of 20 active groundfishermen who are permitted in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia. The number of groundfishing activity within the sector has declined sharply in the past five years due to poor science and overregulation, which has resulted in quota cuts. Click here for more information about the sector.

About Cause of Action:

Cause of Action is a government accountability organization committed to ensuring that decisions made by federal agencies are open, honest, and fair.

To speak to a legal expert from Cause of Action about the case, please contact Geoff Holtzman at or call 703-405-3511