After Supreme Court ruling, fight over at-sea monitoring costs may head to Congress

Published on
October 10, 2017

Despite a recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, a New Hampshire fisherman pledges to continue his fight against having to pay for monitors to accompany them while at sea.

When the court opened its new term last Monday, 2 October, it decided against hearing David Goethel’s case against the U.S. Department of Commerce, allowing the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruling to stand. The Hampton fisherman filed suit in December 2015, about nine months after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it would begin passing the costs of the monitoring program to the fishermen.

The monitoring costs more than USD 700 (EUR 596.03) per day, a price that Goethel and officials from the Northeast Fishery Sector 13 claim is too steep.

“I’ve been fishing my entire adult life, and I will try to continue, but the costs associated with at-sea monitoring will be crushing,” Goethel said. “We may have lost the battle, but the war to save the fishing industry from overregulation is far from over.”

Initially, the plan to transfer the cost to groundfish fisherman was expected to start as early as 2010. However, federal officials chose to delay it for more than five years. In its April ruling, the appeals court agreed with a federal district court decision that Goethel and the sector filed their suit after the statute of limitations expired. Plaintiffs needed to file within 30 days of the initial announcement of the program, not when the federal government decided to finally enforce it.

Julie Smith, vice president of Cause of Action, said the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case allows a dangerous precedent to stand. The nonprofit institute represented Goethel in the case.

Opting not to hear the case “rewards agencies that delay implementation of regulations by making their later actions immune to challenge,” she said.

While the appellate court seemed dismissive of Goethel’s case – Judge Norman Stahl noted in his opinion that the number of claims the plaintiff offered made it seem like he was on “a fishing expedition” – Stahl also was sympathetic to the fishermen’s plight. The judge suggested that Congress may need to intervene in the matter.

That’s now where Goethel’s supporters plan to take the fight.

“It may be too late for judicial relief, but we hope the regional councils and our legislators act quickly to remove this job-killing mandate,” said John Haran, Sector 13 manager.

And there may still be a chance to renew the battle in the court system as the New England Fishery Management Council to include the monitoring program in other fisheries.

“We will continue to look for ways to challenge that and to require the Department of Commerce to follow the law,” Smith said. “This fight is not over.”

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