A Maine lobster group won a major legal victory in court Friday in their lawsuit against the Biden administration over regulations they say threatened their livelihood.
Last year, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) sued the Biden administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over its new rule that the government says was intended to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale. of disappearance, but which, according to the lobsters, threatened to put the family lobster fishing business out of business.
This rule imposed operating limits on the lobster fishery and established new technical standards on the amount of lobster trap ropes that could be in the water, which would halve the number of traps that could be deployed.
The NMFS defended its rule in court, saying the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires the agency to set rules based on worst-case scenario assumptions and “give the benefit of the doubt” to endangered species. Endangered.
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But Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who was part of the three-judge panel that decided the case, blasted the government’s theory in an opinion delivered on Friday. .
“The Service’s legal reasoning was not only flawed; it was terribly wrong. The Service’s argument rested entirely on a half-sentence in legislative history. This “approach is a relic of a bygone era of statutory building,” Ginsburg said.
“Under the Service’s approach, legislative history can provide obligations that the Service now concedes are not found in enacted law. As the Supreme Court recently stated, “we cannot condone such flippant disregard for the rules of statutory interpretation.” The reason is obvious; as any high school civics student should know, lawmakers vote and the president signs bills, not their legislative history,” he continued.
Judge Ginsburg also appeared to denounce the agency for its historical hypocrisy in crafting its rules. “Just a few years ago, the Service, re-examining its rules of interpretation, agreed with commentators that “nothing” in the ESA required it to use “a ‘worst-case scenario’ or make assumptions of unduly conservative modelling”, and dismissed comments that it should give a species the benefit of the doubt by assessing “effects or activities that were possible even if not probable”. ” he said.
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Dustin Delano, former vice president of the MLA and now chief operating officer of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association (NEFSA), said Friday’s court ruling is a welcome moral boost for the fishing industry. fishery which he says is drowning in excessive regulations.
“Today’s decision is a rare and long-sought victory for lobsters. Regulators must face the human cost of their biased and unwarranted approach. The NMFS rules could have destroyed an iconic trade based on a distorted analysis of data that the law does not justify,” Delano said.
“Lobsters, like all New England anglers, are trained in a conservation ethic that long predated federal regulations and the environmental movement. We are deeply sensitive to the marine environment,” he added.
The North Atlantic right whale is an endangered species, with less than 400 in the ocean. They are vulnerable to ship strikes or entanglement in fishing gear.
But the MLA says right whales do not inhabit the coast of Maine and that there has been no documented entanglement of right whales associated with Maine lobsters since 2004. There has also never been a documented case of Maine lobsters seriously injuring or killing a right whale..
Delano says that for decades the NMFS imposed rules based on assumptions and bad data, as it “gave in” to environmental groups without input from the fishing community.
“That’s enough,” Delano said.
“I really can’t stress enough what this will do for people in our industry,” Delano said of Friday’s decision.
“Everyone is under a lot of stress between many things. With 2022 being one of the worst seasons, the threat of offshore wind development off our coasts. So have some positive news and get a win for the fishing industry. You know, it gives me goosebumps, because it’s not something we’ve been through for quite a while,” he said.
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Delano helped launch NEFSA earlier this year, a group that aims to represent New England anglers to push back against federal regulations that are crippling the industry.
Delano praised the deputy’s work for Friday’s court victory and said he hoped his new organization could follow in his footsteps.
“You know, growing up, half the kids in my class were fishermen. We were going to school, and we were talking about what we had in our traps the night before. We’ve been doing this since we were 10 years old. And it continues to this day,” Delano said.
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“And that’s part of the reason why NEFSA was created, because we want to continue this tradition more than anything. And we need a bigger presence in Washington, DC, and that’s why we really wanted to try to bring all the fishing associations together to represent all New England anglers to have a bigger voice” , did he declare.
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