High Court may be last hope to halt regulation that will put 60 percent of New England ground fishermen out of business

Washington, D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) has filed a petition for writ of certiorari urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review the legal arguments of our clients, groundfisherman David Goethel and a group of Northeast fishermen, who sued the U.S. Department of Commerce after the agency shifted the costs for at-sea monitors onto industry. At more than $700 per day at sea, these costs are more than double what many small-boat fishermen take home from an average day of fishing.

Both the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire and the First Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, ruling that the fishermen’s suit was untimely based on when the rule was first disseminated, even though the regulatory costs were not shifted to industry until several years later.

CoA Institute Vice President Julie Smith: “Our clients deserve an opportunity to be heard on the merits. Fishermen who have done nothing wrong should not be put out of business by an unlawful regulation.”

The petition states:

“The First Circuit, in defiance of this Court’s precedents, refused to reach the merits of the fishermen’s challenge, holding that even though the fishermen would certainly face enforcement action for failure to comply with the Government’s unlawful monitoring requirement, they missed any opportunity to seek preenforcement review of that regulation. By requiring Petitioners to, quite literally, ‘bet the boat,’ the First Circuit has committed clear error in ignoring this Court’s precedents on pre-enforcement review…

“Here, the Government waited five years before deciding to implement the industry-funding requirement for the groundfish At-Sea Monitoring Program. Petitioners promptly filed suit, but, so far, have been denied a decision on the merits of their case. This Court should grant review to settle these . . . important questions of law and vindicate its own precedents, which will give the New England fishing industry a second chance at life.”

David Goethel: “After 30 years of fishing, I can’t afford to fish any longer if I’m forced to pay for at-sea monitors. These regulatory costs will devastate small boat fishermen like myself. The Supreme Court may be our last hope to save an industry that for centuries has provided a living for fishermen in New England.”

Northeast Fishery Sector 13 Manager John Haran: “The fishermen in my sector can’t sustain this industry funding requirement and many will be put out of business if this mandate remains in place. The livelihoods of generations of proud fishermen in New England are at stake.”

Case Background:

In November 2015, the Department of Commerce finally announced the date by which sector fishermen, who fish for cod, flounder and certain other ground fish, must not only carry third-party contractors known as “at-sea monitors” on their vessels during fishing trips, but also pay out-of-pocket for the cost of those monitors.  CoA Institute’s clients filed suit to challenge this “industry funding” requirement, which will devastate the Northeast fishing industry, at the price of many jobs and family livelihoods.

In July 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire dismissed the lawsuit. CoA Institute appealed the decision and in April 2017, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling, but without addressing the merits of the case. The Circuit Court held that the fishermen’s suit was untimely, and must have been filed within thirty days of the original agency rule that mandated industry-funding, despite the fact that the requirement never enforced for nearly half a decade.  Interestingly, while the First Circuit did not address the merits of the case, it did emphasize the devastating economic impacts of the regulation and, in a rare move, urged congressional action to clarify the law regarding who should pay for the at-sea monitors.

To learn more, visit the Cause of Action Institute website.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications: zachary.kurz@causeofaction.org