New Jersey groundfish fishermen ask US Supreme Court to take up at-sea monitor case

A group of fishing boats at a dock in New Jersey

Fishermen from the U.S. state of New Jersey who oppose a federal regulation requiring them to pay for monitors to oversee their trips have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up their case.

The New Jersey herring fishermen say a federal law gives NOAA the ability to make them pay up to USD 700 (EUR 680) per day to cover the costs of the monitors – which they claim is often more than what captains and crew members can earn on their trips.

The fishermen are represented by Cause of Action Institute and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who filed the petition before the Supreme Court on Thursday, 10 November. Clement and Cause of Action are hopeful the case can be used to get the Supreme Court to finally overturn the so-called “Chevron deference,” which is a legal principle that courts have used to allow Congress to pass lawmaking authority to regulatory agencies.

“It is the duty of the judiciary to step in when any branch of government has abused its power,” Clement said in a statement. “This case is about correcting one such abuse and reining in executive overreach that threatens the livelihoods of fishing families and the constitutional balance of power.”

The case is similar to one fought by New Hampshire fishermen more than five years ago, although that case was lost because the fishermen in the groundfish fishery filed the lawsuit when NOAA started collecting the fee in 2015 and not when the agency enacted the policy in 2010.

The herring fishermen filed their suit shortly after the New England Fishery Management Council mandated the boats accompany and pay for the monitors. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia District ruled against the plaintiffs in June 2021, and the fishermen lost their appeal in the D.C. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals on a 2-1 decision rendered in August.

Besides overseeing compliance with regulations, at-sea monitors also collect scientific and economic data used in the management of the groundfish fishery. However, the fishermen say it’s not fair for them to foot the bill for those individuals.

“We are fighting for our livelihoods and a future that is being unfairly targeted by federal overreach,” Stefan Axelsson, a third-generation fisherman and captain of one of the vessels in the lawsuit, said. “These rules could force hardworking fishermen to surrender a significant part of their earnings.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Von Klemperer/Shutterstock


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