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New England Fishermen Challenge Constitutionality Of US Fishery Management Councils

The New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association (NEFSA) has sued the U.S government, alleging that the regional fisheries management councils used by NOAA Fisheries are unconstitutional.

NEFSA claims that the way council members are appointed and the job protections they enjoy are both “patently unconstitutional because they unlawfully shield council members from being accountable to the people.” U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo and NOAA Fisheries are named as defendants in the case, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.

“When I was a vessel captain, the New England Fishery Management Council controlled every facet of my business, from catch quotas to conservation measures,” NEFSA CEO Jerry Leeman said. “Despite the significant power council members exercise, they are shielded from democratic control and political accountability. We live in a democracy and our fishery is a public resource. The public needs to be able to participate in its management and care.” 

NEFSA joins a growing chorus of commercial fishermen and industry groups challenging the constitutionality of the federal government’s fisheries management system. In June 2023, a pair of commercial fishermen from the Gulf of Mexico – George Arnesen and Ryan Bradley – sued the federal government and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, claiming the regional fishery management councils are an “unconstitutional regime.” Like in the NEFSA lawsuit, the fishermen claim that the management councils effectively remove democratic control from fisheries regulation.

“A well-intentioned attempt at rule by enlightened experts has devolved, as usual, into a bureaucratic morass captured by narrow interests,” the fishermen allege in the suit.

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