Overfishing in New England waters has severely depleted populations of cod, haddock and other groundfish. In 1994, nearly all fishing was banned in waters identified as spawning grounds and sanctuaries for these fish.
In 1998, federal regulators reopened these areas to herring mid-water trawlers, on the assumption that the herring ships would catch little or no groundfish in their nets. They were wrong. It’s estimated that these vessels have caught hundreds of thousands of pounds of mature and juvenile groundfish as bycatch.
Earthjustice and a coalition of fishermen filed suit to stop the decimation of these groundfish populations. The suit resulted in new proposed protocols that would require all catch to be brought on board the trawlers and inspected. But the National Marine Fisheries issued a surprise loophole that allowed for the dumping of catch before observers could inspect it. This change was not sent out for public comment and contradicted the original rule, which had received overwhelming public support.
Earthjustice again filed suit and secured a new rule that eliminates the loophole. This change will restore the intent of the original rule to require that all fish be brought on board and accounted for, with limited exceptions for safety and mechanical failure.