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Massachusetts Fisherman Wins Appeal for Herring Midwater Trawl Video

Recreational angler and fishing advocate Patrick Paquette has succeeded in obtaining rare video footage showing activities aboard industrial Atlantic herring midwater trawl ships after a year-long legal struggle between Mr. Paquette, who represents several recreational fishing organizations in Massachusetts, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The video, which was shown at a June 2009 meeting of the New England Fisheries Management Council’s Atlantic Herring Oversight Committee, documents loopholes in the current monitoring system and bycatch being brought aboard the vessels. Mr. Paquette’s requests for the video were made to help his organizations and the public participate in reform measures for the controversial high volume fishery, currently under development by the council.

After his verbal and written FOIA requests for the video were denied by both the Council and NMFS staff, Mr. Paquette, represented by Earthjustice, filed an expanded request for additional records related to both the video and NMFS’s actions in denying the request. After these requests were also denied, Earthjustice filed an administrative appeal for the video with NMFS's parent agency, the U.S. Department of Commerce. When they failed to make a timely ruling, Earthjustice filed a complaint in federal district court.

Immediately following the court filing, the Department of Commerce granted Earthjustice’s appeal and released the video to Mr. Paquette. Subsequent settlement negotiations led to the release of additional video footage, related documents, and improvements in NMFS’s FOIA program.

“We’re satisfied that Mr. Paquette obtained the important video footage he asked for, but NMFS’s response to his simple request for a public document was illogical and illegal,” said Roger Fleming, an attorney with Earthjustice. “The ocean is a public resource, and it is NMFS’s job to monitor these enormous fishing ships and manage fisheries resources sustainably. The Freedom of Information Act is a critical tool through which the public can gain the information necessary to hold our government, and these ships, accountable. NMFS needs to do a much better job responding to the public.”

The video: