Net Tightens Around New England Herring Trawlers

Earthjustice actions improve odds against fish slaughter

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If you Google an image of a herring midwater trawler, you see a well-equipped large fishing ship. What you may not see are the massive nets that drag behind such ships – meant to capture anything in their path. No wonder local fishermen in Massachusetts are having a hard time competing. Most of their catch is being scooped up by these nets.

Well, today (7/21) Earthjustice scored big—three times over—in the struggle to keep trawling ships from continuing to deplete fisheries of groundfish (including cod, haddock, flounder and sole).

Earthjustice represented fisherman Patrick Paquette in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service which for months refused to release a public video of footage aboard trawl ships. The video is important because it showcases the flaws in NMFS’s current monitoring system (but more on that later). On Monday a judge approved a final settlement between Paquette and NMFS and officially released the video.

On that same day, a federal magistrate judge ruled in Earthjustice’s favor and ordered NMFS to reconsider its rejection of a petition by New England fishermen to stop these herring trawl ships from decimating groundfish in sanctuaries designed for their protection.

The petition was filed by Earthjustice in 2007 on behalf of groundfish fishermen seeking to exclude the ships from designated areas of the ocean that are nursery grounds for New England’s legendary – but severely depleted – groundfish populations.

And finally, Earthjustice reached a settlement with NMFS on a controversial rule that contained an illogical loophole favoring herring midwater trawl ships. The rule had strict guidelines that the ships must follow to protect crucial groundfish nursery areas southeast of Cape Cod, in technical speak this region is known as Closed Area 1.

The loophole would have allowed catch to be dumped before federal observers could inspect it. It’s a contradiction of the original rule and begs the question: how would the agency keep track of the number of fish being caught? Well, now NMFS has agreed to re-propose the rule, complete with a public comment period, giving fishermen like Captain Peter Taylor, Bob St. Pierre and Stuart Tolley (we represented them in our lawsuit) a chance to be heard.

Earthjustice Attorney Roger Fleming said:

We are confident that once NMFS hears from New England fishermen, other experts, and the public they will agree that there is no need to include such a gaping loophole and that everything caught in midwater trawl ship nets can—and must—be brought aboard to be documented

Raviya was a press secretary at Earthjustice in the Washington, D.C. office from 2008 to 2014, working on issues including federal rulemakings, energy efficiency laws and coal ash pollution.