Struggling Fishermen Sue over Cost of Harvest Monitoring

It can be difficult to make one’s living off of the land – or the sea – these days. Federal and state regulations on natural resource dependent industries have driven many a hard-working man and woman out of a job.

The latest chapter in this long story, however, is still being written off the coast of New Hampshire and in its onshore courtrooms:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, requires groundfishermen — those who catch cod, haddock and other common bottom-dwelling species — to carry on board “at-sea monitors.” The observers, hired by three for-profit companies, are third-party workers whose task it is to observe fishermen’s compliance with federal regulations and ensure annual quotas are not exceeded.

The dispute lies in the cost of the monitors and who should pay for them: Fishermen are billed on average $700 a day when a regulator is present.

Defending the haddock fishermen of the Granite State from this financial burden is Cause of Action, a nonprofit legal organization which works to protect economic opportunity for American taxpayers. A U.S. District Court judge ruled against Cause of Action’s initial challenge, but they’re currently appealing the ruling. 

Longtime fans of free market environmentalism will be familiar with these sorts of conflicts—former CEI journalism fellow Sean Paige was writing about environmental regulations driving commercial fishermen out of business for Reason magazine as far back as 2001. Even farther back, the endangered species listing of the Northern Spotted Owl in 1990 created a fight between logging communities in the Northwest and federal regulators that was legendary in its time, and retains the ability to generate strong feelings to this day.