BOSTON — The state attorney general of Massachusetts filed suit against federal fishing regulators yesterday in an attempt to block new rules that she called a “death sentence” for New England’s fleet.
The filing by Attorney General Martha Coakley comes four weeks after major new cuts in catch limits for bottom-dwelling groundfish went into effect May 1.
The most significant cut is a 78 percent year-to-year reduction in the catch of Gulf of Maine cod, but fishermen have also absorbed huge reductions in key flounder and haddock species.
Fishermen say they aren’t allowed to catch enough fish to stay in business.
“I am in financial ruin,” said Gloucester fisherman Joe Orlando, who stood with industry advocates and Coakley at the Boston Fish Pier when Coakley announced the suit.
The suit alleges that though regulators at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledge the cuts will be devastating, they haven’t met legal requirements to mitigate them. It also charges regulators with using flawed science to back overly restrictive rules.
“The federal government has shown a callous disregard for the well-being of Massachusetts fishing families,” Coakley said.
In the months before the rules took effect, regulators took various steps to try to ease the blow, such as by increasing the quota on healthier species. But the Northeast’s top regulator, John Bullard, has repeatedly said the sharp cuts, though painful, are needed to help fish stocks rebound.
And he says the science is sound and backed by results on the water last year, when fishing was down region-wide and fishermen failed to catch near their quotas on most species.
In a statement yesterday, Bullard said it was “unfortunate” that Coakley decided to sue rather than work with NOAA to find ways to help the industry.
“It is time for us to look forward, not backward, if we are going to be able to help fishermen through this difficult transition,” he said.