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Government Agency Must Reconsider Rejection of Groundfish Petition

A federal judge has ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to reconsider its rejection of a petition to stop industrial Atlantic herring midwater trawl ships from slaughtering cod, haddock and other groundfish in protective sanctuaries. For years these ships have caught groundfish in their nets as bycatch, contributing to the steep decline and slow recovery of these fish populations.

In 2007 Earthjustice filed the petition on behalf of the Midcoast Fishermen’s Association and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance seeking to exclude industrial trawlers from the protected nursery grounds of New England’s depleted groundfish populations. The agency rejected the petition in November, stating it was not concerned about the levels of groundfish bycatch by midwater trawl ships.

Federal Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola found the agency’s failure to explain its reasons for denying the petition “fatal” and recommended that the court resubmit the petition to the agency so that it could explain its reasoning while also considering all the data in support of the petition, including scientific analysis showing that the amount of groundfish bycatch is significantly worse than even existing data shows.

“NMFS’s failure to carefully monitor midwater trawl ships and to protect groundfish nursery grounds from their indiscriminate fishing practices has been a significant factor in the slow recovery of the once-robust groundfish populations,” said Earthjustice attorney Roger Fleming. “Judge Facciola has sent a strong message to the agency that it needs to get its act together, look at the data and other available information, and take seriously the request by New England fishermen to move these ships out of groundfish sanctuaries.”