Roger Fleming is part of a core oceans litigation team. His work focuses on east coast fisheries issues.
Since 2007, Fleming has worked with local fishermen to promote healthy ocean ecosystems in New England, an area that is often referred to as the poster child for bad fisheries management.
I grew up in the Midwest and we didn’t get out much when I was growing up and the ocean was always something that interested me. It was mysterious. It was a long way away. But I always read about it and I always sort of dreamed of working on ocean-related issues even though I never even got to see the ocean until I was actually a senior in high school, believe it or not.
And so I focused on environmental law in law school and took all of the ocean-related law classes that I could, and I think from a legal perspective I’ve always been much more of a what one of my professors used to call a “birds and bunnies environmentalist” as opposed to a “pollution-oriented environmentalist.” In other words, I had just always been more interested in working on critter issues, and I think that the oceans are … our planet is a blue planet. It’s mostly ocean and yet the oceans receive, at least in my view, relatively little attention from an environmental perspective. So it really worked out well for me. It’s been a lifelong interest of mine, but it’s also an area where I think there’s a significant need for attorneys to work on the issues and a significant need for conservation.
I think that overall public awareness is increasing, but it’s difficult because for one thing we could broaden the question and just ask, “What does the public really think of the ocean?” And a lot of folks think of the ocean as a nice place to go visit at the edge and they sort of see the surface of the ocean, but maybe don’t think about what’s going on under the ocean or the valuable role that it plays with the rest of the planet. But I think that more and more people are probably becoming aware of the need not only to protect the more charismatic species like tuna or whales or striped bass, but to protect what else is in the food chain.
If you give people a chance to think about it, they get it. People understand that it’s not that different from the terrestrial world. But it’s difficult to get that message out there. It’s hard to do public education around a small stinky oily fish. It’s a lot easier to do a campaign around right whales or grizzly bears.
We as lawyers can go to the incredibly boring regulatory meetings and make legal arguments and policy arguments. We can bring the scientists to make the policy arguments. We should win on the merits, but we don’t always. And I think that a lot of it at the regulatory, administrative, decision-making level where you have representatives or politicians making some of the decisions, there’s a public interest and political component to the decisions that are getting made as well.
And in some cases there are very powerful, well-funded, industrial-type fishing interests that are there at the table that are taking a much shorter term view than we are. So those battles are difficult to win. But with a lot of the campaigns we’re working on now, there is an organized public relations component to it, and I think that helps to get the public to weigh in with politicians at the statehouses who send their representatives to these meetings.
"People are becoming aware of the need not only to protect the more charismatic species like tuna or whales or striped bass—but to protect what else is in the food chain."