CoAI Submits Statement for the Record to Congress: Hearing on “Exploring the Successes and Challenges of the Magnuson-Stevens Act”

Cause of Action Institute submitted a Statement for the Record today to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.  The subcommittee is holding an important oversight hearing on domestic fisheries management and opportunities for reform of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The statement highlights concerns with the federal government’s current efforts to expand industry-funded at-sea monitoring throughout the Atlantic region.  It also follows CoA Institute’s filing of a petition for writ of certiorari in Goethel v. Department of Commerce, which specifically concerns the legality of the Northeast multispecies sector at-sea monitoring industry funding requirement.  Learn more about David Goethel’s fight here.

Ryan Mulvey is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute.

CoAI Seeks Supreme Court Review of Job-Killing Fishing Regulation

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

Is NOAA deleting records? CoA Institute sues for important communications about fisheries regulation

In passing the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and the Federal Records Act, Congress intended for internal agency communications to be logged and, in many cases, retrievable under the FOIA.  Attempts by agencies and officials to evade such transparency violate the core principles of government accountability and recently resulted in a highly publicized scandal that enveloped Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.

So in the wake of the Clinton e-mail scandal, have agencies learned their lesson?  For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”), this doesn’t appear to be the case.  Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) recently submitted multiple FOIA requests for NOAA’s records retention policies and internal communications from the time period surrounding the recent New England Fishery Management Council (“NEFMC”) meetings.  In addition to asking for emails, CoA Institute also requested Google Chat/Google Hangout (“GChat”) records.

Anyone who regularly uses G-Mail is familiar with GChat and its “off the record” feature, which disables message logging.  Unfortunately, a 2012 NOAA memo indicates that NOAA enabled the “off the record” feature agency-wide.  There’s no indication that NOAA is using any other method to log these communications.  This likely violates the Federal Records Act and frustrates public efforts to file FOIA requests seeking to better understand government decision-making.

CoA Institute is interested in the communications between NOAA officials during the recent NEFMC meetings.  These meetings were important because, at their conclusion, the NEFMC voted to adopt an amendment that would extend coverage of “at-sea monitors” on the fishing industry.  This could have devastating effects on the ability of small-boat fishermen to continue to pursue their livelihoods.  This amendment now goes to the Secretary of Commerce for his approval, and it is critical that the public understand the thought process used by NOAA to get this result, which would be revealed by reading its internal communications.

NOAA’s response to CoA Institute’s FOIA request was unusual.  First, it declared the request was non-billable, meaning CoA Institute would not need to pay fees for compiling the information.  This is appropriate given both the public interest in these records and CoA Institute’s status as a news media requester organization.  NOAA later rescinded its non-billable determination and demanded CoA Institute submit more information relevant to the fee waiver request.  CoA Institute did so, but, to date, NOAA has not responded.  In our letter, we express concern with how NOAA is handling this request:

If NOAA is concerned that records responsive to this request will cast the agency in an unflattering light or reveal that its recordkeeping practices are in violation of law, it cannot weaponize fee waivers to prevent disclosure. To do so would not only be a violation of the law, but it would strike a grave blow to transparency.

With today’s lawsuit, NOAA has no choice but to produce the requested records.  If the agency is unable to locate any GChat records because they were improperly deleted, NOAA must publicly admit this, immediately take steps to recover the records, and change its policies for future record retention to comply with the law.

Eric Bolinder is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute.

CoAI Sues NOAA for G-Chat Records Surrounding Controversial Amendment to Expand Industry-Funded At-Sea Monitoring

Unlawful agency directive appears to greenlight concealed communications on internal messaging platform

Washington D.C. –Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today filed a lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) for Google Chat or Hangouts communications from the New England Fishery Management Council’s (“NEFMC”) April 2017 meeting. The suit also seeks internal guidance on retention of Google Chat records on the agency’s internal messaging platform. NOAA failed to respond to two Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests submitted in May for these records.

The records sought by CoA Institute include guidance from NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for the retention of instant messages through the “Google Chat” or “Google Hangouts” feature of NOAA’s internal Unified Messaging System. According to a March 2012 NOAA handbook, employees were instructed that these messages “will be considered ‘off the record’ and will not be recorded in anyway.”

CoA Institute Vice President Julie Smith: “NOAA appears to have created an internal messaging platform to hide records from public disclosure. Any directive to make certain communications be considered ‘off-the-record’ clearly violates transparency laws.  Americans have a right to know how decisions are made that could jeopardize their livelihoods.”

The lawsuit also seeks all communications sent or received by employees of NOAA’s NEFMC who attended the April 18–20, 2017 meeting. During this meeting, the NEFMC approved a controversial amendment to expand the use of industry-funded at-sea monitors to the herring fishery and to prepare for its further expansion through all regional fisheries.

CoA Institute submitted a regulatory comment opposing the so-called Industry-Funded Monitoring Omnibus Amendment due to negative economic impacts that threaten the livelihoods of countless small-business fishermen. The cost for a monitor under the amendment would cost fishermen more than $700 per day at sea.  That would exceed the revenue a fisherman typically lands from his daily catch. The Secretary of Commerce has since commenced a review of the rule for compliance with federal law.

The full complaint is available here.
The two earlier FOIA requests are available here and here.

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

 

Fishermen in New England Face Another Costly Regulation

The New England Fishery Management Council (“NEFMC”) held a meeting on April 20, 2017 [pictured above] to discuss a controversial omnibus amendment that would require more fishermen to pay for at-sea monitors, which should be the government’s responsibility.

The monitors would cost between $710-$818 per day at sea, which is more than the average daily revenue of a fisherman, rendering fishing unprofitable for many smaller-scale boats.

Cause of Action Institute Vice President Julie Smith attended the meeting and questioned the legality of the rule change, citing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which, she said, does not permit the Council to implement this regulation. She advised the Council to take a different course of action to avoid likely court challenges to overturn the amendment. Listen to Smith’s full remarks here:

 

In a written comment submitted on April 11, 2017, Smith provided alternatives for the council to consider. The council could scrap the amendment entirely, work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to get the funds, or petition Congress for the funds.

However, she said shifting the cost burden onto fishermen would be “ill-advised.”

CoA Institute represents fishermen challenging another industry-funded monitoring program in the Northeast groundfish fishery. In that case, a government study predicted that industry-funded monitoring would result in up to 60 percent of mostly small-scale vessels going out of business—a result that the government blithely characterized as a “restructuring” of the groundfish fleet.  Learn more about the case HERE

Court of Appeals Upholds Decision on Reg That Will Put 60 Percent of New England Ground Fishermen Out of Business

Judges refuse to consider legal arguments, but implore Congress to clarify the law about who should pay for at-sea monitors 

Washington, D.C. – On Friday, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling last summer that a lawsuit filed by Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) on behalf of Plaintiffs David Goethel and Northeast Fishery Sector 13 against the U.S. Department of Commerce should be dismissed.

In its opinion, the Court found that the fishermen’s suit was untimely and therefore did not consider the Plaintiff’s legal arguments that requiring fishermen to pay for monitors is against the law.  However, in a rare move, the judges highlighted the devastating economic impacts of the regulation in question, and urged Congress to clarify the law and who should pay for the at-sea monitors.

“I am disappointed by the decision,” Goethel said. “But I’m hopeful that Congress will heed the Court’s direction and clarify the law. It is the government’s obligation to pay for these at-sea monitors. I’ve made a living fishing in New England for more than 30 years and I have never exceeded a single fishing quota. But I can’t afford to fish if I am forced to pay for at-sea monitors.  I’m grateful to Cause of Action Institute for bringing this case forward, and I remain hopeful that Congress will clarify the law to ensure the New England groundfishing industry is not regulated out of existence.”

Northeast Fishery Sector 13 Manager John Haran said, “I’m disappointed that timeliness of the case was the Court’s deciding factor and not the merits of our arguments. 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.”

Cause of Action Vice President Julie Smith said, “We are disappointed that the First Circuit did not reach the merits of our case.  While we respect the opinion of the First Circuit, the federal government is clearly overextending its regulatory power and is destroying an industry.  We are considering all of our legal options for judicial review on the merits.  We also encourage Congress and the Administration to act swiftly to ensure that these unlawful regulatory costs do not put an end to the tradition of generations of proud fishermen in New England.”

Background:

In December 2015, the Department of Commerce ordered that fishermen who fish for cod, flounder and certain other fish in the Northeast United States not only must carry National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) enforcement contractors known as “at-sea monitors” on their vessels during fishing trips, but must pay out-of-pocket for the cost of those monitors.  This “industry funding” requirement would devastate the Northeast fishing industry, at the price of many jobs and livelihoods.  The opinion by the First Circuit upholds the lower court’s decision and allows this job-killing mandate to remain in place.

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

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

This Fisherman Is Battling the Government to Save His Livelihood

The New England and Mid-Atlantic fishing industry is older than the Nation itself. The industry’s regulators, however, have embarked on a project that threatens its imminent destruction.

Meet New Hampshire fisherman David Goethel. The federal government is destroying Mr. Goethel’s industry through overregulation and forcing ground-fishermen like himself to pay $700 per day to have authorities monitor them on their boats. Even the government estimates these additional costs would put 60% of the industry out of business. Cause of Action Institute is helping Mr. Goethel fight back through the courts to save his livelihood. Learn more HERE

#FreeTheFishermen