In a David versus Goliath matchup, the Supreme Court will hear a set of arguments on Wednesday over a Commerce Department regulation, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that could sink the fishing industry in the United Sates.
Last year, a group of fishermen from New Jersey petitioned the Supreme Court to consider their lawsuit against the NOAA, which required their boats to pay roughly $700 a day to fund the salary of a human ‘at-sea’ monitor for each expedition to ensure compliance of fishing laws.
At the heart of their arguments before the high court is what’s called the Chevron doctrine, established in 1984 by a case called Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
In that case, the Supreme Court said that if a federal rule is challenged in court, the court should give deference to the agency and its ‘reasonable’ interpretation of a congressional statute it argues granted them permission to create the rule.
The fishermen will argue that the at-sea monitor payment mandate violates Article 1 of the Constitution and that the court should overturn Chevron, an outcome that would significantly change the legal landscape for the administrative state.
But for the fishermen, many of whom are stewards of fourth- and fifth generation small family businesses, a legal victory would mean securing their livelihoods they feel have been on the brink.
‘It’s pretty much unfathomable,’ Jerry Leman, founder of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association (NEFSA), told Fox News Digital in an interview, speaking of the financial burden on the boats for at-sea monitors.
NEFSA is a bipartisan, nonprofit alliance of fishermen off the coast of New England fighting to limit erroneous government regulations.
‘We’ve never really had a say,’ Aaron Williams, captain of the F/V Tradition in Stonington, Connecticut, said of the mandate. ‘It would just be nice to have our voices heard.’
On top of the burdensome costs, the fishermen argue that the at-sea monitors are not required to have any specific marine education and are given minimal training prior to boarding their vessel. Some, having never been on a boat previously, often suffer seasickness and record faulty information, according to the fishermen.
The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) filed a similar lawsuit the Supreme Court will also hear Wednesday morning, representing fishing companies Relentless Inc., Huntress Inc., and Seafreeze Fleet LLC, the largest producer and trader of sea-frozen seafood on the East Coast.
‘The people of New England famously rebelled against George III because he ‘erected’ ‘New Offices and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass’ them ‘and eat out their substance,’’ NCLA states in its legal filing.
The group says their clients ‘have revived cause for similar grievance by promulgating a regulation that requires at-sea monitors to be paid for by the very fishing vessels forced to carry them.’
In both cases, the fishermen argue that the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs marine fisheries, allows for federal monitoring, but must do so on the government’s dime. It does not give agencies an allowance to charge fishermen for the cost of monitors.
NCLA argues in its brief that when NOAA asked Congress to appropriate funds for the at-sea monitors, those funds were denied – further cementing the notion that NOAA is out of its bounds set by the legislative branch.
Meghan Lapp, a fisheries management expert at the Center for Sustainable Fisheries, notes that an economic impact analysis on companies like Relentless showed the at-sea monitors cost cut into 20% of the fishermen’s income.
In an interview with Fox News Digital, Lapp noted that fishing – the country’s oldest industry – is also the nation’s eighth-most regulated industry. Without the additional at-sea monitors, there are already systems in place that trace boat speed and collect biological samples, among other things.
Lapp also argued that if the fishing industry ‘continues to get put out of business by government overreach’ through programs like the monitor mandate, it could have a negative impact on the environment worldwide.
‘[If] your only other option for seafood is imports… what people have to understand is that by doing that, you’re actually creating an environmental issue,’ said Lapp. ‘The United States has the highest environmental standards of any country in the world when it comes to fisheries. So our wild harvested seafood is the most sustainable seafood that you’re going to find on the planet.’
‘If you’re going to put our fishermen out of business, then you’re going to be purchasing seafood from countries with little or no regulation. So the environmental impact of relying on imports rather than U.S.-caught product, it’s actually more damaging to the environment,’ Lapp says.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the two cases, Relentless v. Department of Commerce and Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Leman says he hopes the Supreme Court rules their way so New England fishermen can keep their businesses afloat.
‘Most of us… are multigeneration fishermen. These are fisheries that were passed down from generations, in our hometown, to us. I have not yet met a fisherman that wants to kill the last fish. I mean, what would we do tomorrow?’ Leman said.