September 24, 2016

UPDATE: Commercial fishermen, counties file lawsuit again state

Three coastal counties have joined with commercial fishermen in litigation against the state of North Carolina over last year’s decision by the Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt new regulations on the southern flounder fishery by using the “supplement” process.

Stevenson Weeks, an attorney with Wheatly, Wheatly, Weeks, Lupton & Massie of Beaufort and Todd Roessler attorney with Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton of Raleigh, are representing the plaintiffs. The complaint was filed Friday, Sept. 23, in Carteret County Superior Court.

The plaintiffs include the North Carolina Fisheries Association, Inc.; Carteret County Fisherman’s Association, Inc., and Dare, Carteret, and Hyde counties.

Defendants served with the complaint are the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality, Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, and all members of the Marine Fisheries Commission.

According to the plaintiffs, the practical effect of the litigation is to stop the closure of the recreational and commercial southern flounder fisheries, scheduled to take effect this fall.

Brent Fulcher, board chairman of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, said, “Filing a lawsuit is the last resort for us. We testified many times last year before the Marine Fisheries Commission that using the supplement is the wrong approach and should be managed by a full-blown amendment that allows full public participation. Our advice was totally ignored.”

“In my 29 years of involvement with these fisheries issues, this is only the second time that we filed litigation against the Division of Marine Fisheries”, said Jerry Schill, president of the Fisheries Association, a trade group representing commercial fishermen. “Fishermen must have confidence in the process for management to be successful, but with the commission and the division ignoring the law and even their own guidelines, we have no other option left.”

The 30-page complaint alleges the management measures made by the defendants were arbitrary and based on inadequate scientific data using an abbreviated regulatory process and did so in violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings Laws.

Click here to read the complaint.

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