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Fishermen take monitor fight to Supreme Court

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In this April 23, 2016 file photo, David Goethel flips a cod while sorting groundfish caught off the coast of New Hampshire. Goethel is leading a fishermen's group in its fight to remove federal monitors from fishing vessels that can cost hundreds of dollars a day. Their lawsuit is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this April 23, 2016 file photo, David Goethel flips a cod while sorting groundfish caught off the coast of New Hampshire. Goethel is leading a fishermen's group in its fight to remove federal monitors from fishing vessels that can cost hundreds of dollars a day. Their lawsuit is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. (AP file photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND — A New England fishermen’s group is taking its fight over monitors who collect sea data to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping it removes a new cost they say is an existential threat to the industry.

The monitors are workers who collect data used to help develop government fishing regulations, and the government shifted the cost of paying for monitors to fishermen last year. A group of fisherman, led by David Goethel of New Hampshire, then sued the government over the change and lost in a federal district court and later in the federal appeals court in Boston.

Goethel isn’t giving up, and his attorney filed a petition with the Supreme Court earlier this month seeking a review of the case. Monitors can cost hundreds of dollars per day and are likely to put fishermen out of business, Goethel said.

“It’s driving people off the water,” Goethel said. “Fishermen are really angry. Every day I get calls from people on the water thanking me for keeping this up.”

Goethel is represented by Washington, D.C.-based Cause of Action Institute, which is waiting to hear back about the petition, spokesman Zachary Kurz said. No court dates are scheduled so far, he said.

The lawsuit is against the federal Department of Commerce, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that regulates commercial fishing. NOAA doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation, said Jennifer Goebel, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The new monitor rules apply to fishermen of commercially significant fish called “groundfish,” which is a group of species that includes fish market staples such as cod, haddock and sole. Monitors are required on about one-sixth of the groundfishing trips this year.

While fishermen have chafed at the new expense, which can add $700 per day to the cost of fishing, several conservation groups have defended monitoring. Lack of good data from monitoring jeopardizes the health of fish populations and ultimately harms fishermen, said Roger Fleming, an attorney with San Francisco-based Earthjustice.

“It’s perfectly reasonable for fishermen to pay for a portion if not all of the at-sea cost of monitoring,” Fleming said. “They are harvesting a public resource.”

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