CoA Institute files opening brief in appeal of decision to force costs of at-sea monitors on struggling fishermen

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) has filed its opening brief in an appeal of the district court’s decision that fishermen should be forced to pay for their own at-sea monitors. CoA Institute is representing New Hampshire fisherman David Goethel and a group of Northeast fishermen in the case against the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In July, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that fishermen must pay out-of-pocket for the cost of those monitors. Cause of Action Institute is appealing the ruling. The opening brief, filed in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, states:

“The New England and Mid-Atlantic fishing industry is older than the Nation itself.  Today it creates thousands of jobs in countless fishing communities. The industry’s regulators, however, have embarked on a project that threatens its imminent destruction.  They have done so without statutory authority, defying the most elementary limits on federal agency power.  This Court should intervene to protect fishermen from agencies run amok.”

Current government regulations compel fishermen to carry “at-sea monitors” who live with the fishermen at sea, observe their activities, check their compliance with federal regulations, and file reports upon their return to dock.  Fishermen have accepted the presence of monitors for years, and the government has historically paid for them with money appropriated by Congress.

In early 2016, however, the Government claimed to have run out of money.  Its response was to enforce a new requirement — now, the fishermen must pay for the monitors themselves, at an estimated cost of more than $700 per trip.  Most fishermen cannot afford to do so, and will be forced to abandon their livelihoods.

If the Government wants third-party monitors to police fishing activity, the Government must also take responsibility for paying for them. The district court disagreed, holding that the Government’s power to regulate the fishing industry and place monitors includes the much broader power to extract money from regulated parties when congressional appropriations run short.

The brief states:

“Such reasoning represents an unprecedented expansion of agencies’ implied powers, with implications stretching far beyond the agencies involved in this case. Contrary to the district court’s reasoning, the bedrock of administrative law is that federal agencies are limited to congressionally-delegated powers and congressionally-appropriated funds.  If they lack statutory authority or appropriated funds, they have no power to act.  They may not coerce their regulated industries to provide the funding that Congress has declined to grant.  This Court should reaffirm that principle and reverse the district court.”

For more information about the case, visit our website.